Can You Translate These Common Latin Phrases?

By: Torrance Grey

Can You Translate These Common Latin Phrases?
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About This Quiz

"Latin is a dead language/That is plain to see/ First it killed the Romans/And now it's killing me." This tongue-in-cheek rhyme comes from the days when Latin was a required part of middle-school and high-school curriculum. But how dead is Latin, really? Certainly, you've had to learn a lot of Latin if you've studied Christian theology, human anatomy, or the law.

But beyond that, Latin has crept into everyday English in dozens of ways. Did you know the word "innuendo" is Latin? It means, "by nodding" -- i.e., expressing something discreetly. (In fact, "i.e." itself is short for a Latin phrase! We won't tell you what it is here ... we'll be getting to that in the quiz!)

The motto of MGM studios is Latin? It's "Ars gratia artis," or "art for art's sake." And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg drew on the Latin phrase "Carthago delendam est," (Carthage must be destroyed!) when declaring "war" on new rival Google Plus. Clearly, this "dead" language isn't going anywhere. True, we've lost some beautiful Latin expressions. Consider "Non nobis solum natis sumus," or "Not for ourselves alone are we born." And "Noli me tangere!" sounds a lot better than, "Hands off, pal!" Still, a number of great Latin expressions remain. To that end, we've created a 35-question quiz on the expressions that have become part of the English language. We hope you do well (Bona fortuna habe!) but we promise we won't make you stay after class and clap erasers if you don't.

Carpe diem
The present day
Yesterday
Seize the day!
You probably knew this one. It's popular on signs and T-shirts, just like "Keep Calm and Carry On."
Dyed carpet

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Et tu?
Are you present?
Are you angry?
Not you, too?
"Et tu, Brute?" was Caesar's famous (but apocryphal) statement to his friend Brutus in the Senate, when the Senators turned against him and killed him. Caesar was evidently surprised and saddened to find his supposed friend among the assassins.
Have you eaten?

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Bona fide
Good-looking
A good place
Good faith
You might hear this as a plural. "Bona fides" often mean someone's credentials, or proof that they are qualified to do something.
A bone for a dog

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Semper fidelis
Always faithful
This is, of course, the motto of the US Marine Corps. It's sometimes shortened to "Semper fi."
True only to one
Always forgiving
High fidelity

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Veni, vidi, vici
I came, I saw, I conquered
This was Caesar's brief report to the Senate about the battle of Zela. If he'd lived in the age of texting, he would have added, "NBD."
I see, I want, I take
He said, she said, we said
God sees everything

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Alma mater
Famous woman
Older sister
Stepmother
School of origin
According to Merriam-Webster, this translates to "bounteous or fostering mother." Which is certainly a romantic way to look at the school that educated you!

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Vice versa
And the other way around
This is something you say when an opposite is equally true, or something works both ways. "I house-sit for her when she travels, and vice versa."
Two vices
So I've read
So it is written

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Alter ego:
A new leaf
A second self
"Ego" is Latin for "I," so "alter ego" is a second self, a different identity. (Excuse the in-joke about chocolate, but you'll understand if you've had the excellent, if pricey, brand called "Alter Eco" for its environmental standards).
A family member
This is great chocolate!

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Ante bellum
A distant relative
Something lovely
Prior to the war
This term, sometimes spelled as one word, comes up a lot in discussions of the American Civil War. If you visit the South, you might see historic "antebellum" homes.
After noon

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Ad nauseam
By the seas
By air
To the highest
To the point of nausea
This is a blunt way of saying someone's gone way too far, usually in repeating something. "He went on and on, ad nauseam, about how well the date went."

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Id est
I am
You are
That is
You're probably used to seeing this one as "i.e." Generally, it's used to rephrase something complicated in a simpler way.
And your point is?

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Exemplum gratia
Outside
For example
You might be used to seeing this phrase as "e.g." You might refer to "... a dead language, e.g. Latin."
Something unnecessary
Buy one, get one free

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Et cetera
Meanwhile ...
And so on
Abbreviated as "etc.," et cetera" means "and other (similar) things." It's too bad English hasn't adopted the word "cetera" for "various stuff," as it'd be quite useful! "You're fired! Box up all your cetera and go."
In which case
Please repeat the question

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Persona non grata
A penniless person
A landless person
A person who is out of favor
You might become a persona non grata because of your grating voice. But that seems pretty harsh to us!
A person whose voice grates

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Semper paratus
Always fierce
Always ready
This one is lesser known. It's the motto of the US Coast Guard, the fifth branch of America's armed services.
Halfway to heaven
Strong and loyal

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Ad infinitum
For God's glory
Endlessly
"Ad infinitum" means "on and on" or "to infinity." See also "ad nauseam," meaning "To the point of nausea."
Until nightfall
Until dawn

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In vitro
By sea
In a beaker or petri dish
Cells act differently "in vitro" -- in a lab setting, petri dish, or test tube -- than they do "in vivo," meaning in living tissue. This is why treatments for disease that are promising in the lab don't always work out in clinical trials.
In one's lifetime
Vividly or colorfully

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In perpetuum
Incarcerated
Indefinitely
This is a legal term you might see in a will. Public access to a property might be granted "in perpetuum."
In a fantasy world
In a vacuum

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Sic semper tyrannis
Cheaters never prosper
Always ready
Thus falls Rome
Thus always to tyrants
This phrase became notorious when John Wilkes Booth shouted it after shooting Abraham Lincoln. At least, Booth wrote that he did so, in his diary. If no witnesses recalled it, it's likely because there was noise and confusion that would have made it hard to absorb a simple English phrase, much less an unfamiliar foreign-language one.

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Dramatis personae
Characters in a play
You'll see "dramatis personae" listed at the beginning of a play's script. Movies have "dramatis personae," too, but that term isn't used.
Fools
People who get dizzy easily
Drama queens

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Ad hominem
Against the man
An "ad hominem" attack is one that attacks the person, not their work, theory, etc. If you suggest that someone's ideas are invalid because they didn't go to college, that's an ad hominem attack. (Plus, snobbish).
Against all logic
About human nature
Temporarily

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Per ardua ad astra
From earth to eternity
More bark, less bite
Through difficulties to the stars
This one might confuse a few people. "Ardua" is related to the English word "arduous," or "very hard." The word for "fire" is "ignis;" it doesn't start with "ar-."
Through fire to the stars

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Mea culpa
Feed me
My heart
My fault
This one's well-known enough that you'll hear people use it in casual conversation: "Sorry, mea culpa!" (Or rather, you do again now that "my bad!" has finally faded away).
Sane mind

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Nolo contendere
Let's not fight
I forgot the answer
I don't want to contest the charges
Don't spell this "No lo contendere," as if in Spanish. The "lo" part isn't a pronoun meaning "it." Rather, "Nolo" comes from "nolere," meaning "to wish not." The opposite is "volere," meaning simply "to wish (to)."
I was just pretending

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Sub rosa
Embarrassingly
Secondarily
Sufficiently
Secretly
Roses have a long history of representing secrecy, in more than one culture. Sometimes, confidential documents were sealed with wax on which a rose was imprinted, giving rise to the phrase "under the rose" to mean "secret, restricted or confidential" information.

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Cui bono?
Are you well?
What is your name?
Who benefits?
Literally translated, this phrase means "To whom the good?" "Bonus" is the Latin term meaning "good," or here, "benefit." Though not as common in legal circles as "prima facie," it asks the question "Who benefits (from committing a crime)?"
(Will you) throw me a bone?

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Rara avis
A fool
A rarity or prodigy
Another way to say "rara avis" (rare bird or oddity) is "cygnus niger," meaning "black swan." These were thought by Europeans not to exist, until they were discovered in parts of Australia and New Zealand.
A sea bird
A rental chariot

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Prima facie
Ladies first
Beautiful face
On the face of it
"Prima facie" is one of many legal terms you'll be seeing in this quiz. Prima facie evidence is strong evidence that tends to prove one's case -- but it doesn't necessarily mean you'll win.
Diva or goddess

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Casus belli
A beautiful place
The case for war
You heard this term a lot in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. The Bush administration's "casus belli" relied heavily on WMD, or Weapons of Mass Destruction, that Iraq was said to be in possession of.
Full attack
Full retreat

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Facta, non verba
Love, not hate
Deeds, not words
Though we now think of "facts" as pieces of information, in Latin "facere" means "to do or make." "Verba," of course, is easier to translate.
Trees, not grass
Just the facts, ma'am

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Benedicite
Bless you
As in modern-day Spanish, "te" is the familiar (friendly) "you." Therefore "benedicite" is a compound word meaning "Bless you."
I indict you
Isn't that wonderful?
Is that Benedict?

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Annus horribilus
Tyrant
A terrible year
Many people considered 2016 to be this, because of various world events. On his year-end show, comedian John Oliver did a segment that ended with a giant foam "2016" being exploded with dynamite.
The terrible twos
Ring of shame

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Cogito ergo sum
I try without fear of failure
I am the sum of my thoughts
I think, therefore I am
The philosopher Rene Descartes came up with this idea. It was his starting point in untangling the thorny problem of whether we humans can be certain of anything.
I'm thinking about what I'd like to eat

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Multum in parvo
A lot in a little
This is the unofficial motto pug lovers have given to their favorite dog breed. They're saying the pug packs a lot of great qualities into a small package.
Many are called, few are chosen
Confusion and mayhem
It's crowded in here

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Corpus delicti
The body/facts of the case
In legal settings, the "corpus delicti" is the body of the case, or its fundamental facts. "Corpus" is, of course, related to English words about the body, like "corpse" and "corporeal."
It is finished
Loss of blood
That was delicious

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