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50 Latin Phrases

50 Latin Phrases

NumberPhraseDefinitionContext / History
1
I came, I saw, I conquered.
Famously attributed to Julius Caesar in a message he supposedly sent to the Roman Senate to describe his swift, conclusive victory against King Pharnaces II of Pontus near Zela in 47 BC.
2
The die has been cast.
Another Latin phrase said by Julius Caesar upon crossing the Rubicon to enter Italy and begin the long civil war against Pompey and the Optimates. The meaning of this phrase refers to the point of no return.
3
Seize the day.
Probably the most popular Latin phrase of modern times. Luckily, we have an even better one: carpe vinum. Literally ‘seize the wine’. The only Latin phrase you’ll ever need on a Friday night out. And speaking of night, you should also remember the carpe noctem variation which literally translates to ‘seize the night’. Either way, the general meaning is to make the most of everything.
4
I think, therefore I am.
dictum (‘a short statement that expresses a general truth’) coined by French philosopher René Descartes in Latin.
5
In wine, there is truth.
Be careful if you carpe vinum on that Friday night out we talked about. This Latin saying suggests that you’ll probably spill all your secrets if you drink too much alcohol.
6
“And you, Brutus?”
Or “You too, Brutus?”. This Latin quote appears in William Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar” at the very moment of Caesar’s assassination. Upon recognizing his friend, Marcus Junius Brutus, as one of the assassins, Julius Caesar utters these last words. That scene is very tragic indeed, but nowadays, the phrase can be used jokingly to condemn a friend’s change of heart.
7
Deeds, not words.
Similar to res, non verba, the English equivalent of this phrase is “actions speak louder than words”. In other words, act upon it or always follow your declarations with actions.
8
Carthage must be destroyed.
Prior to the Third Punic War between Rome and Carthage, Cato the Censor, a Roman politician, used to conclude all his speeches to the Senate with this phrase. While he did this in an attempt to push for the war, nowadays the expression can be used figuratively as a way to express your absolute support for an idea.
9
To the person
Short for argumentum ad hominem (literally meaning ‘argument against the person’). It refers to a rhetorical strategy where the speaker attacks the other person rather than the substance of the argument itself.
10
Something for something
Or ‘this for that’. A favor granted in return for something else. Similar to “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”.
11
God from the machine
A plot device used to resolve a seemingly unsolvable problem. It’s often considered a lazy or cheap way to tie loose ends in movies or books. A good example could be Arya killing the Night King in Game of Thrones.
12
For this
Or ‘for this purpose. Something that is not planned, but done only when it’s needed. An ad hoc  meeting.
13
Through my fault
An acknowledgment of one’s fault or an admission of guilt.
14
The existing state (of affairs)
Mainly used with regard to social or political issues. “The officials wanted to maintain the status quo, so they did not vote to admit the new members.
15
By itself or in itself
Used to describe or talk about something on its own, rather than in connection with other things. “I’m not a fan of the Latin language per se, but rather its influence on modern languages.”
16
Nourishing mother
Used to identify the institution of education that one formerly attended. It suggests that a school provides intellectual nourishment to its students.
17
In fact
Describes something existing in fact, although perhaps not legal. It contrasts with de jure, which refers to things that happen according to law.
18
An unwelcome person
Especially used in diplomacy, but also in day-to-day conversations. “Julian is a persona non grata for us since he offended Miriam.”
19
In good faith
If something was made bona fide, then it is sincere, genuine or authentic.
20
Of its/his/her/their own kind
Constituting a class alone. Unique. Think of Mozart for example.
21
Without which, not
Something absolutely essential. A more clear translation could be ‘without (something), (something else) won’t be possible’. “Creativity is a sine qua non for writing novels.”
22
To infinity
Without end or limit
23
And other similar things
Etymology. From Latin et cētera (“and the other things; and the rest of the things”).
24
Laughing corrects morals.
According to this phrase, one supposedly corrects bad habits by laughing at them. Of course, you shouldn’t laugh at strangers, but your close friends will probably like the idea.
25
Good for whom?
Or who benefits? Similar to the expression sequere pecuniam (“follow the money”), this phrase suggests to look for the culprit in the person who would benefit from an unwelcome event.
26
It annoys me at the foot.
Similar to the English saying “a pebble in one’s shoe”, me vexat pede refers to a trivial situation or person that is being a nuisance. The Romans don’t seem so serious anymore, do they?
27
To milk a male goat.
Am I wrong or is this your soon to be favorite Latin phrase? Although it hints at attempting the impossible – which is a very serious matter – you can not help but smile at the image.
28
Nothing comes from nothing.
Or so Lucretius said. Originally meaning “work is required to succeed”, the modern reinterpretation suggests that “everything has its origins in something”.
29
Nobody dances sober.
Have you heard about Cicero? The famous Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher and Academic Skeptic? Well, he said this. Probably after an interesting night during which carpe vinum  was his favorite motto.
30
We strive for the forbidden.
From Ovid’s ‘Amores’. This behavior is no stranger to the modern world. Highly disputed between philophers, nitimur in vetitum  was also what drove Eve to take a bite from the forbidden fruit.
31
The Emperor is not above the grammarians.
Its origin goes back to 1414, when the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg made a grammar mistake during his speech to the Council of Constance. After the error was pointed out to him, Sigismund angrily decided to simply change the grammar rule to his liking. At his point, a member of the Council apparently stood and said “Caesar non supra grammaticos”.
32
Money don’t smell.
According to Suetonius, when to Roman emperor Vespasian imposed a urine tax, his son Titus complained of the money’s disgusting nature. Now you’re probably asking yourself what in heaven’s name is a urine tax. Well, the urine collected from Rome’s public urinals was sold as an ingredient for multiple chemical processes. So no, the people of Rome didn’t pay a tax to urinate. Instead, the buyers of the urine did. You can probably imagine what happened next. Vespasian’s answer to his son was to hold up a gold coin and ask whether it smelled. The rest is… history.
33
A full belly does not like studying.
Romans believed it is difficult to concentrate after a heavy meal.
34
Hurry slowly.
An oxymoronic phrase attributed to Augustus. Genius if you ask me. Equivalent to “more haste, less speed”, festina lente  essentially encourages you to proceed quickly, but cautiously.
35
A beard doesn’t make one a philosopher.
Want to sweep everyone off their feet with your erudite ways? Use this Latin phrase instead of its English equivalent: “clothes don’t make the man”. Or the similar cucullus non facit monachum  (“the hood does not make the monk”).
36
Of tastes there is nothing to be disputed.
Different phrase, same as “Barba non facit philosophum”. You’re welcome.
37
I fear Greeks even if they bring gifts.
Similar to equo ne credite (“do not trust the horse”). The phrase belongs to Laocoön when he supposedly warned his fellow Trojans against accepting the wooden horse from the Greeks. Nowadays, this expression can be used figuratively between friends.
38
It is sweet on occasion to play the fool. / It is pleasant to relax once in a while.
By Horace in ‘Odes’. Criminally underused genius Latin phrase. I trust you shall change this.
39
Fortune favors the bold.
Supposedly Pliny the Elder’s last words before leaving the docks at Pompeii to rescue his friend Pomponianus from the eruption of Vesuvius in 79. The phrase also appears in Virgil’s Aeneid.
40
Thus indeed.
Funny thing about Romans. Apparently, they had no word for ‘yes’, so they went with ita vero instead.
41
The wolf in the story.
The Latin equivalent of “speak of the devil”. When you speak of someone and they suddenly appear, almost as if you were summoning them, this proverb is perfect.
42
Remember to live.
We all heard about memento mori  (“remember that you [have to] die”), but apparently a more optimistic view over life also existed.
43
Laughter is abundant in the mouth of fools.
Similar to per risum multum poteris cognoscere stultum (“by excessive laughter one can recognize the fool”). Do you have that one friend who laughs at their own jokes even before saying them? If yes, then this saying is for them. Only if they are not easily offended, of course.
44
To belch before the deaf.
You gotta love the Latin language. After learning of this phrase’s existence, I no longer regarded my attempt to learn as many Latin phrases as possible as futile. If it wasn’t obvious enough, surdo oppedere refers to a useless action.
45
Either Caesar or nothing.
Or “all or nothing”. This was the personal motto of the infamous Italian cardinal Cesare Borgia. Nowadays, the expression can be used to denote the absolute aspiration to be the best.
46
You are flogging a dead man.
Have you ever criticized someone who did not feel remorse over their actions? This phrase is exactly about that but said in a much more creative and interesting way. Gotta remember this one.
47
If you want to be loved, love.
Written by Seneca in the sixth of his letters to Lucilius. The phrase has a double interpretation: ‘only loving souls can inspire love’ and ‘you cannot ask for love from those you do not love yourself’.
48
Love conquers all.
Famously attributed to the Latin poet Virgil, this popular Latin phrase is also the title of a painting by the Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio.
49
Where (there is) love, there (is) pain.
No matter how beautiful, love can also hurt. This expression refers to the pain love can inflict upon one’s soul especially if we’re talking about unrequited love.
50
Love is rich with both honey and venom.
It seems that love was no different in Ancient Rome. This quote appeared in Titus Maccius Plautus’ play ‘Cistellaria’.
51
Oh me! Love can not be cured by herbs.
From Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. We know your pain, Ovid.