A simple, beautiful way to dive into the world of Latin wisdom: Latin Phrases + presents timeless quotes from great Latin writers against a background of other.
Back when I was a relatively new lawyer, I had a boss who wasn’t really up to the job--the kind of guy who nitpicked like a mere manager, rather than acting like a true leader. (It was this guy, in case you’re wondering.)
I wrote a memo for him once in which I used the abbreviation “N.B.” next to a very important point. He called me into his office.
“What the hell is ‘N.B.?’” he asked, accusingly. He wasn’t happy. I was surprised he didn’t know the expression; it’s short for nota bene, which is the Latin phrase for “note well,” and it’s fairly common in legal documents. It suggests simply that the reader should pay special attention to whatever comes next.
Of course, this meant that I had to start working other Latin phrases into my conversations with him. It’s probably not what my high school Latin teacher expected us to use the language for, but I found it empowering.
Some say that Latin is a dead language, but in truth it lives on--especially in the shorter phrases and concepts we often use in modern speech. I like using them--or at least thinking about them--because the act of translating them focuses the mind on their meaning. Here are a few of my favorites:
“All other things being equal.” It’s useful when you want to isolate a single issue and focus on it. I studied economics in college, and I had a professor who used this phrase all the time.
Most of us have heard caveat emptor, which is “buyer beware.” This phrase is its counterpart, “seller beware”--a good reminder for an entrepreneur.
An absolutely necessary component or ingredient. Determination is the sine qua non of entrepreneurship.
This one is actually better known now by its English translation: bread and circuses; the idea that many people can be placated by diversions and security, rather than aiming for greatness. (See also, soda and reality TV.)
You know carpe diem--”seize the day.” This is its companion: “seize the night.” It could be a party anthem, but it’s more about being willing to put in whatever time is necessary to achieve a worthy goal.
This one is better for party time: “Seize the wine.”
The golden mean: a Greek phrase that lasted into Roman times.
“Fortune favors the bold.” People who think things can’t be done are often interrupted by others who are actually doing them.
“Always faithful,” the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps. Even if you’re not a Marine, it’s good to know this one and what it means.
“Always prepared,” the motto of both the U.S. Coast Guard and (in Anglicized format) the Boy Scouts.
“Actions, not words.” It happens to be the motto of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
My apology; my error. To really emphasize it, go for “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”
Thirteen phrases is a good start, but the truth is that this list could be a lot longer--on toward infinity. Contact me or share in the comments if you have some other favorites.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
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While Latin hasn’t been regularly spoken or written for hundreds of years, save for the occasional scholarly text, its legacy is still felt throughout the lexicon of both Romance and Germanic languages today. Whether you’re launching an ad hominem attack or adding etcetera to the end of a list, it’s likely you’re peppering your speech with Latin phrases without even knowing it.
That said, we can do better than exclaiming “veni, vidi, vici” following a win at Scrabble or whispering “in vino veritas” before spilling a secret over a few drinks. With that in mind, we’ve compiled the genius Latin phrases you could and should be using on a daily basis.
One of the most poular Latin phrases, meaning, “Through adversity to the stars,” this utterance is generally used to describe the overcoming of adversity resulting in a favorable outcome. For instance, this common state motto—which also happens to adorn the memorial plaque for the astronauts who died on Apollo 1—can be used in conversation when you’re having a terrible go of things, but you’re confident a greater outcome awaits you.
If you’ve ever wanted to strike fear into the heart of your enemies (or just want a good comeback for when you catch someone cheating on game night), try out this expression. Meaning “Mortal actions never deceive the gods,” this Latin phrase certainly fits the bill.
We’ve all heard the phrase “carpe diem” a million times, but we’ll do you one better: “carpe vinum.” Of all the Latin phrases to master, this one, which translates to “Seize the wine,” will certainly come in handy when you’re eager to impress your waiter with a fancy foodie phrase or are doing your best Caligula impression after a few glasses of pinot noir.
Latin phrases don’t get much more iconic than “Alea iacta est,” or “The die is cast,” an expression reportedly uttered by Julius Caesar as he crossed Italy’s Rubicon river with his army. Of course, it works equally well when you’ve got the wheels in motion for a brilliant plan that doesn’t involve civil war, too.
Do you live life on the edge? Then “dulce periculum” might just be your new motto. Meaning, “Danger is sweet,” dropping this phrase in casual conversation certainly lets people know what you’re about.
If you want to make it clear that you won’t stand for lip service, toss “acta non verba” into your everyday language. Meaning, “Deeds, not words,” this phrase is an easy way to make it clear that you don’t kindly suffer those whose behavior doesn’t match their words.
If your conspiracy theorist friend needs a good talking to, there are plenty of hilarious words to describe their condition other than asking how that tinfoil hat works. Instead, hit them with a quick “Condemnant quo non intellegunt.” This phrase, meaning “They condemn that which they do not understand,” is the perfect burn for those who proudly espouse their less-than-logic-backed views and offer little supporting evidence.
Want some inspiration to kill it on an upcoming job interview? Repeat “Audentes fortuna iuvat” (“Fortune favors the bold”) to yourself a few times in the mirror before heading out the door.
For those eager to make it clear that they don’t give second chances, keep “Factum fieri infectum non potest” in your back pocket. This phrase, which means “It is impossible for a deed to be undone,” also serves as a grave reminder for your friends when they say they’re about they’re about to do something rash.
Finding yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place? Pump yourself up by letting forth an “Aut viam inveniam aut faciam.” This phrase, which translates to, “I will either find a way or make one,” is famously attributed to Carthaginian general Hannibal, one of history’s most famous military leaders.
While Wall Street may have told us that greed is good, the Latin language begs to differ. If you want to refute an acquaintance’s obsession with having it all, hit them with a “Qui totum vult totum perdit,” or, translated, “He who wants everything loses everything.”
Of all the Latin phrases in the world, there’s one perfect for picking yourself up when you feel like the stars aren’t aligning in your favor. Just remember, “Faber est suae quisque fortunae” (“Every man is the artisan of his own fortune”).
If social media pettiness and idle gossip feel beneath you, try adding “Aquila non capit muscas” to your vocabulary. The phrase, which means, “The eagle does not catch flies,” is a particularly cutting way to remind others that you’re not about to trouble yourself with their nonsense.
While it’s natural to be upset over storm damage to a house or dangerous conditions that cause a flight to be canceled, Latin speakers were sure to make it clear that nature doesn’t share our feelings. “Natura non constristatur,” which means “Nature is not saddened,” is the perfect phrase to remind yourself or others just how unconcerned with human affairs Mother Nature truly is.
From Virgil’s Aeneid, this phrase, which means “If I cannot move Heaven, I will raise Hell,” is the perfect addition to the vocabulary of anyone whose halo is nonexistent.
Today may not be going the way you want, but you can always boost your spirits by uttering “ad meliora,” or, “Toward better things.”
Many a great idea or seemingly crazy prediction has been initially laughed off by those who don’t understand it. When that happens to you, remind your detractors, “Nullum magnum ingenium sine mixture dementia fuit,” or, “There has been no great wisdom without an element of madness.”
That guy who proclaims himself to be a genius, but seems to only reiterate derivative remarks? He’s “Barba tenus sapientes,” or “As wise as far as the beard.” In other words, this guy might seem intelligent at first, but it’s all a façade.
Occam’s razor isn’t always the best way to judge a situation. In times where belief alone trumps logic, drop a “Creo quia absurdum est” (“I believe because it is absurd”).
Need a quick way to make it clear that you won’t be intimidated by a bully? Simply tell them, “Lupus non timet canem lantrantem,” translated to mean, “A wolf is not afraid of a barking dog.”
When you’re eager to remind your subordinates at work who’s in charge, toss a “Non ducor duco” their way. Meaning, “I am not led; I lead,” this phrase is a powerful way of letting others you’re not to be messed with.
Sometimes, people’s opinions can’t be changed. When that’s the case, drop a, “Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt,” or, “Men generally believe what they want to.”
The motto of the fictional Addams Family, this phrase means, “We gladly feast on those who would subdue us.” Also perfect for use in any conversation where you’re eager to terrify someone else.
Love is amazing, painful, and confusing at the same time, as those who spoke Latin apparently knew all too well. The next time you want to remind a friend of the exquisite agony that often accompanies a new relationship, use this phrase, which means “Love is rich with honey and venom.”
While not quite the Washington Post‘s new motto, this phrase comes pretty close. If you’re ever channeling your inner superhero, try out this expression, which means, “In the absence of light, darkness prevails.”
Do you think the truth is out there? Do you think there are government secrets that threaten our very existence? If so, this phrase, which means “Be suspicious of everything,” should be a welcome addition to your lexicon.
There’s a reason we still admire the paintings and sculptures of long-dead masters, and luckily, one of the easiest-to-master Latin phrases just about sums it up: “Art is long, life is short.”
Just because you think you’re a relatively sage person doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily on the ball at all times. As many a Latin speaker might remind you with this phrase, “Of mortal men, none is wise at all times.”
If you feel like you’re being underestimated, don’t be afraid to spit, “Quid infants sumus?” at those who might not see your potential. While it’s not exactly a scathing insult, it’s pretty amusing to know the Latin phrase for, “What are we, babies?”
Of course, not all Latin phrases are useful—some are just funny. This one, in particular—a translation of a humorous saying from Monty Python’s “Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook” sketch, simply means, “My hovercraft is full of eels.”
Want to impress your friends with your erudite ways? Eager to utter completely vicious phrases that people will have to look up later? Looking for a more educated way to talk trash online? Then you, my friend, need to brush up on your Latin. The phrases below are all worth committing to memory if for no other reason than that quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur.
He conquers who conquers himself.
Used as a motto by many schools, this phrase speaks to the importance of first getting yourself under control, mastering your urges and temptations, before trying to control the outside world. Also, fun fact, it can be seen on a stained glass window at the beginning of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Carthage must be destroyed.
The Second Punic War, fought between 218 and 201 BC, was a rough one for Rome, as they initiated it only to get spanked in a very real way by Hannibal and his elephants. Following the war, noted hardass Cato the Elder would end his speeches with this phrase, which these days can be used to add emphasis and vehemence to an argument.
I am not led, I lead.
The motto of São Paulo, Brazil, this phrase is a great, albeit somewhat aggressive way to assert your dominance while also letting folks know that you’ve read a few books. It corrects anyone under the mistaken assumption that you aren’t the absolute boss and/or innovator of any given situation.
The gladiator is formulating his plan in the arena.
This one comes to us from the philosopher, statesman and dramatist Seneca the Younger. It refers to the time jsut prior to a gladiator’s battle, when the warrior is already in the arena preparing to fight. Basically, it’s a more badass way to say “We’re already pregnant,” or, in other words: You’re too damn late.
Water of life.
Most of the phrases listed here have at least some kind of connection to war, combat and struggle, but this one is a little different. Aqua vitae can be used to refer to any kind of liquor, whether it’s done sincerely while talking about that single barrel scotch you’ve been saving, or more ironically for a case of PBR.
Thus always to tyrants.
These days, this phrase is mostly known as what John Wilkes Booth may or may not have shouted out while assassinating President Abraham Lincoln. That association is a shame, however, as it’s a much older phrase, with a far less problematic, but equally murderous history. Prior to its debated use by Booth, the phrase was placed on the official seal of the commonwealth of Virginia, which also featured a female warrior, representing virtue, standing upon a defeated king, representing tyranny. The phrase is all about how tyrants tend to meet brutal ends, which explains why the phrase is so closely connected with a much earlier assassination: That of Julius Caesar.
The stars incline us, they do not bind us.
I love this one because it’s about as bold a one-line refutation of fatalism as you can imagine. The phrase means that while fate – whether determined by the stars, the gods or something else entirely – might nudge us in a certain direction, we are never forced in it, that free will exists and the decision of what to do in any circumstance is ultimately our own.
Either with shield or on shield.
This is actually a Latin version of an earlier Greek phrase. In Sparta, mothers were said to tell their war-bred children to either come back carrying their shield or on it. At first, that might not make a lot of sense, but when you acknowledge the size and weight of a Spartan shield, the tendency of deserters to leave it behind and the tradition of carrying dead soldiers back home upon their shield, the meaning becomes clear: Don’t surrender, never give up.
Through fire, nature is reborn whole.
So this one’s a little confusing. First up, you need to know about INRI, an acronym for Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum, which means Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews, a phrase that was said to have been inscribed on the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Later, as part of alchemical and occult studies, this Latin backronym was created, which refers to the cleansing power of fire and the ever-repeating cycle of death and life.
If I can not bend the will of Heaven, I shall move Hell.
Originally spoken by Juno in Virgil’s Aeneid, this phrase is perhaps best-known today for appearing as a dedication in Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. But as for how to use it, it kind of works as a piece of all-purpose badassery, something to utter or growl when you’ve been stymied or prevented from achieving your goal. Give it extra punch by taking some liberties with the translation, telling people who ask that it means “If I can’t move heaven, I shall raise hell.”
Let them hate so long as they fear.
I was first exposed to this phrase from its use on a t-shirt for professional wrestler Triple H, who has a long history of using different Latin phrases on his merchandise and entrance videos. This one fits Triple H perfectly, as he has a reputation for being a brutal, somewhat mercenary talent within WWE, so it’s appropriate that he would borrow a line from one of Rome’s most brutal dictators, Caligula.
These are our favorite badass Latin phrases, but we had to lose a ton of them in the process of narrowing this list down to just 11. Tell us your favorites in the comments below!
Aubrey Sitterson is the writer of the upcoming Street Fighter x G.I. Joe comic book from IDW Publishing and the creator of the ongoing, sword & sorcery serial podcast, SKALD, available on iTunes, Stitcher & Podomatic. Follow him on Twitter and check out his website for more information.
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One of the most poular Latin phrases, meaning, “Through adversity to the . “ There has been no great wisdom without an element of madness.
This is a list of Latin proverbs and sayings.
Alphabetized by first word of proverb
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Did you take Latin and ancient Greek in high school and then never used it again ? Yeah, me too. Still, there are a few Latin phrases that have.