Poetry & Prose

A Latin version of the bible.
Latin version of bible.
‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, the adulteress is to be put to death.’ — Leviticus 20:10

To start with, these are the abbreviations you’ll most likely be seeing/using in any academic paper:


— (exempli gratia) = For example, For instance,


— (et cetera) = …and other things.


— (et cetera) = …and other things.


— (folio) abbreviation of Latin folio = on the next page (folium: leaf; page). Also use with the same purpose is: et seq. … in the following [pages, sections, &c.].


— (id est) = In other words, Put differently,

et al.

— (et alii) = and others, used especially in referring to academic books or articles that have more than one author.


— (ibidem) = in the same place; in the same source referenced in the previous reference entry.


— (idem) = the same; the same author (as previously referenced).

inter alia

— “Among other things.” e.g., “Ernest Hemingway wrote, inter alia, The Sun Also Rises.”


— (nota bene) = pay special attention to something.

op. cit.

— (opere citato) = in the work cited but when referencing where a work has previously been referenced.


— (post scriptum) = postscript; something written after the main body of text.


— (videlicet) = “namely”, “to wit”, “precisely” (the opposite of ‘e.g.’). For example: “The noble gases, viz. helium, neon, argon, xenon, krypton and radon, show a non-expected behaviour…”


Some of the phrases set out below are academic, others are more likely to be seen in legal texts or texts dealing with political-economy matters. But, all in all, they’re all well worth knowing if you are a student of English literature.

Latin’s Contemporary Importance


Ad hoc

— “For this purpose” and, therefore, for no other purpose.

Ad infinitum

— To infinity; and so on.


Ceteris paribus

— This means, “other things being equal” or “controlling for other variables”, i.e., holding them constant and not changing the other variables.

Caveat venditor

— This means, “buyer beware.”

Et nunc et semper

— Now and for ever; From now on.

Bona fide

Ipso facto

— Literally: “By the fact itself.” So, a specific phenomenon is a direct consequence (a resultant effect) of the action in question. A common English idiom with a similar meaning to “in and of itself”. Compare also “by itself” and “per se”. Aside from its technical uses, ipso facto occurs frequently in literature, particularly in scholarly addenda: e.g., “Faustus had signed his life away, and was, ipso facto, incapable of repentance” (from Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus) or “These prejudices are rooted in the idea that every tramp ipso facto is a blackguard” (from George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London).

Ex ante & ex post

— Ex ante = Before the event; in anticipation. Ex post = After the event; in retrospect.

Per capita

Mea culpa

— My apology; my error. To really emphasise it, write, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”

Sine qua non

— An absolutely necessary component or ingredient. Determination is the sine qua non of entrepreneurship.

A priori

Pre-supposed; your “priors beliefs”.

Ad valorem

Per value; a 10% tax is an ad valorem tax, whereas a duty per gallon of gasoline is not.

De facto

For all practical purposes, but not officially.

De jure

By law.

Per se

Literally: “by itself.”

Prima facie

In the first instance; at first glance.


As has been asked to be shown; something’s done.

Ultra vires

“Beyond their power,” e.g., the court ruled that Congress were acting ultra vires.

Ad lib

Or: ad libitum. This means with freedom; improvised, spontaneously created. Today is is most commonly an instruction or freedom to ‘improvise’ in say a theatrical performance or when giving a speech.

Ad litteram

“To the letter.” Precisely/according to the ‘letter of the law’

Ad nauseam

To (produce) sea-sickness; used to describe something that is very boring; unbearably tedious.


Britain the ancient Greek word for Britain.


Grassland; today’s university and its grounds.

De facto

Of a fact; in reality; in practice. Especially contrasted with something which exists in in a lesser way theory or in law (see De jure, below)

Dei gratia

By the grace of god. Traditionally used to imply the divine right, such as that of a monarch’s title and/or status.

De jure

According to law.


“Therefore.” As in, “therefore, and so it follows that…” Linking a cause or situation with a result or conclusion.

Errare humanum est

“To err is human (nature).” People occasionally naturally make mistakes – popularised by Alexander Pope’s ‘An Essay on Criticism’ which stated, ‘To err is human; to forgive, divine’ — said to be an acceptance of human weakness.

In extremis

In end; at death. At the point of (a person’s) death. This phrases is mostly significant in assessing the reliability of statements made by the deceased in relation to a legal case.

In situ

In place; something that’s in its natural location (contrasting with ‘in vitro’, as in, ‘in glass’ [a glass test-tube])

Modus operandi

“Way of working.” A method or process for a task or activity/service.

Opus magnum

A great work. For example, Conrad’s opus magnum was, without doubt, The Secret Sharer.

Qui docet discit

“Who teaches learns.” It’s said that a good way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

Quid pro quo

“Something for something (else).” If you massage my back, I shall massage yours.

Sine qua non

Without which not. An absolutely necessary requirement or condition, an indispensable factor.

Status quo

A situation in which the current conditions remain unchanged.


Latin’s Contemporary Importance

For over one thousand years the classic languages of Greek and Latin were part of the education in every school in what we may refer to as the Western world. Every schoolboy (it was mostly boys…) was taught subjects such as the Trojan War, the History of the Roman Empire and the works of the great masters of western philosophy, no matter what (remember too, it was only the elite that got an education back then). Latin (and Greek) are important, inter alia, because they are:

1. — Key to many modern European languages
Even after just a few months studying Latin, my English vocabulary increased 100% (my native language is Portuguese). Even native English speakers have trouble with English spelling, but they wouldn’t if they knew the etymology of the words from Latin. I also started to understand my own language better and see that some grammar rules date back to the times of the Greeks and Romans. This new knowledge of the classics made me start associating every Latin or Ancient Greek word with their respective derivatives, and by doing so I was finally able to achieve true fluency in three Romance Languages – Italian, French, and Spanish.

2. — Underpin the language of modern science and law
Apart from increasing the capacity to learn foreign languages study of the classics can help any person understand scientific vocabulary much better. The vocabulary found in sciences such as Astronomy, Physics and Medicine is often based on Greek and Latin words. One cannot clearly understand how most legal systems work if Roman Law is not studied with diligence. In the old days scientists such as Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon would even write their works in Latin rather than English, as they knew anyone would be able to understand Latin.

3. — The only languages that will improve your ‘logic’ skills
It is said that these two classical languages will help enhance knowledge of logic and mathematics. In learning to translate Latin sentences, one develops reasoning skills that will also help him to solve mathematical puzzles. Classical languages often don’t have an easy word order so the student must have understand grammar well and memorize declension tables before they try to translate Latin or Ancient Greek, Sanskrit etc. It’s for these and many other reasons that I think Classics should have a place in the modern world and should never be seen as worthless teaching. Nowadays people think a classical education can only ever be for snobs. It’s up to us classicists to try and change this reality and show people how the study of the classics can be both fun and useful.

4. — The languages that will improve your cultural and literary knowledge
It is said that knowledge of these two classical languages will help enhance one’s cultural literacy. Just as Latin increases literacy in English, so does familiarity with Greek-Roman culture increase cultural literacy. It is argued that familiarity with the history of the classical world helps in understanding the foundations of our modern democratic society. Many academics argue that the cultural experience of the ancient world is highly relevant to us today. The Roman Empire has been called the first great multi-ethnic society. Study of Roman successes and failures in this area is timely. Likewise, someone who is familiar with ancient warfare will have a useful perspective on more recent military conflicts.

Thanks to politics and social media, the English language is being degraded tweet by tweet.

We live in world of hashtags, of broken sentences and fragments of ideas published on social media. It has become so bad that we might ask why even have language? With the advent of the emoji, pictures seem to do the job just as well — and they worked for our earliest (stone-age) ancestors.

According to Benjamin Auslin (Financial Times, 201), for centuries, Latin was at the core of western education precisely because it trains you to assess information critically, articulate ideas and convey them eloquently. As an inflected language, reading Latin involves inspecting the ending of each word to determine its syntactic function. Being able to break down and rebuild sentences — that is, being able clearly to comprehend or construct a thought — is a skill that translates well into English.

Politicians used to speak to the masses with rational argumentation using the power of rhetoric, which is now largely abandoned. Part of learning Latin is studying their command of language to find lessons on public duty and the role of citizens in society, lessons that become more important as we seem to be splitting along class, race and party lines and engaging online in the least civil of discourse.

Imagine if the type of political “dialogue” witnessed online during the 2016 US presidential election became the norm over the next decade. When my generation runs for office, social media may well be the predominant forum for public debate because it is the most familiar and comfortable. Those who have let the social media mindset seep into civil discourse will reap what they now sow.

Latin’s greatest use may lie where English fails in an age when thoughts become jumbled into 140 or 280 characters. Ideally, we would learn to think and write like the Roman authors. Julius Caesar was renowned for his clarity in writing, perhaps born out of his experience as a military general. Cicero brought down the Catiline conspiracy against the government through four extensive speeches using stirring rhetoric. Read these masters and you will discover a rich legacy of literature that makes most Twitter feeds look like cave paintings.

It is ironic that the digital age should suffer from its own success. Language is powerful, but it has been subsumed into a revolution of liking and disliking, binary options rather than articulate responses.

In a society in which we are increasingly unwilling to listen to each other, the classics may offer the greatest hope of recovering not merely a shared civility, but the ability to use our own language.

Latin is the language in which the most sophisticated thoughts of the western world were expressed.

Not only does the syntax of Latin stimulate logical reasoning, according to Oxford professor, Nicola Gardini, but more critically, it is the language of civilization, “the western world was created on [Latin’s] back.” Indeed, Gardini believes that Latin is the antidote for the modern age, which seems transfixed by the spontaneous, the easy, and the ephemeral. His new book, Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language, argues that Latin combines truth and beauty with the timelessness of art. People should study Latin for all the reasons people should read literature.

Poetry represents the human word at its finest.

In a review of Gardini’s work, Diane Scharper (2019), states that it provides a detailed discussion of the “old Latin authors.” This starts with the playwright Plautus (250–184 B.C.E.), whose comedies influenced dramatists through the ages including William Shakespeare (in The Comedy of Errors), George Bernard Shaw, and Bertolt Brecht. Gardini also notes that Cato the Elder (234–149 B.C.E.) produced a vast body of work, but only a farming manual, De agri cultura, survives. Gardini considers the work the beginning of Latin literature and an influence for “the giant Virgil” and his Aeneid. In a chapter on Virgil’s Eclogues, Gardini argues that the word umbra (meaning ‘shadow’) is “the most beautiful word in the Latin language.” In the word, he says, “the semantic and emotive ambivalence of Virgil’s Latin finds its most eloquent symbol.” Gardini admires the poet Catullus (87–54 BC), considering him to be one of the greatest influences on Western poetry. Today, only 116 of his poems survive, including “The Death of Lesbia’s Sparrow,” which Gardini calls “one of the most celebrated texts in Western literature.” “Of all the ancient writers,” Gardini says, Seneca (4 B.C.E.–65 C.E.), “the Stoic philosopher, is the one who has most taught me how to live.”

Gardini also discusses Nicolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) and his warmly felt connection to Roman literature. Author of The Prince and the father of modern political theory. Machiavelli, Gardini says, occasionally took a break from politics and read the Latin classics. As Machiavelli describes it, he didn’t just read, he encountered the authors of these ancient books: “I speak to them without inhibition,” he wrote in 1513 to a friend, “and I ask them the reasons behind their actions; and in their humanity, they reply.” Moreover, Latin literature has influenced figures as diverse as Shakespeare, Dante, Milton, Nietzsche and Margaret Atwood.

English Literature
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§ ‒ Latin in English
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§ ‒ Phrases & Idioms (inc. etymology)
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