Although the origins of English are a merry mix of many languages and dialects, a significant number of words have their roots in Latin. We still use of lot of Latin phrases in everyday life; sometimes we understand the phrases simply from having heard them used in context. But do we know exactly what we are saying?
A priori: literally, “from the former”. Derived by reasoning from self-evident propositions. For example, all bachelors are single.
Caveat: “let him beware”. We use it phrases like “I would recommend it, but with one caveat; don’t expect it to solve all your problems. “Caveat emptor”, of course, is Latin for “Let the buyer beware”.
Habeas corpus: “you may have the body”. In modern legal lingo, the right of habeas corpus requires that a person be brought before a court to see if they merit being held or should be released. It is one of the most important safeguards against unlawful imprisonment.
Ipso facto: “by the fact itself”. By that very fact or act; as an inevitable result. So a dog that is half poodle is, ipso facto, half not-poodle.
Ibidem (ibid.): “in the same place”. Remember that from your term paper bibliographies? Indicates a reference to the last source previously cited.
Magnum opus: “a great work”. Usually used to refer to THE great work of an artist or writer. Many would say that Dostoevsky’s magnum opus is “The Brothers Karamazov”.
Non sequitur: “it does not follow”. In general, it means a comment that does not make sense in its context, but is not necessarily inherently absurd. The advertising industry uses all kinds of non sequiturs like, “If I bleach my teeth, people will find me irresistible.”
Opere citato (op. cit.): “in the work that was cited”. Another term paper classic. To refer again to the last source mentioned or used.
Persona non grata: “a not-pleasing person”. What you will be to your in-laws if you insult your mother-in-law’s cooking.
Pro bono: “for the good”. The full phrase is pro bono publico (“for the public good”). Work done voluntarily and for no fee, such as when a lawyer offers her services pro bono.
RIP (acronym of requiescat in pace): “may she/he rest in peace”. Coincidentally, RIP also stands for the English “rest in peace”.
Sic: “thus” or “just so”. We see it in quoted material to indicate that the reference is exactly as it appears in the source, mistakes and all.
Summa cum laude: “with highest praise” or “with highest distinction”. So if you graduate summa cum laude, you’re the top smarty-pants in your class. Now, if you graduate magna cum laude (“with great praise”) you’re just a regular smarty-pants.
Tabula rasa: “smoothed or erased tablet”. We usually use this when we talk about a young mind in its virgin state before accumulating knowledge: Aristotle’s notion of the mind as a tabula rasa, or blank slate.
Audaces fortuna iuvat: Often attributed to Virgil, this is one of my favourites and I have the words framed next to my desk at home. It means, “fortune favours the bold (or the brave)” and this had indeed been my experience. No one accomplishes anything extraordinary without taking a few chances.
Ave atque vale!
(Hail and farewell!)