15 Latin Phrases Every Writer Should Know

15 Latin Phrases Every Writer Should Know

  1. Persona Non Grata
    “An unwelcome person” (lately defined by some as a literary agent)
  2. Habeas Corpus
    “You have the body”  (The legal right to appear before a judge.)
  3. Cogito Ergo Sum
    “I think, therefore I am.” For a writer it would be – “Scribo ergo sum”
  4. E Pluribus Unum
    “Out of many, one”
  5. Quid Pro Quo
    “This for that” or in other words, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”
  6. Ad Hominem
    “To the man” During an argument or discussion, when one party attacks their opponent’s reputation or expertise rather than sticking to the issue at hand.
  7. Soli Deo Gloria
    “Glory to God alone” – a motto of the Reformation. Johann Sebastian Bach would sign his compositions with the initials S.D.G.
  8. Caveat Emptor
    “Let the buyer beware” (before you use the “1-click” feature on Amazon.com)
  9. Memento Mori
    “Remember your mortality” (also the name of an album by Flyleaf)
  10. Caveat Lector
    “Let the reader beware”   (be nice to your reading audience!)
  11. Sui Generis
    “Of its own kind,” or “Unique” – a key principle in copyright or intellectual property law
  12. Veni, vidi, vici
    “I came, I saw, I conquered” – A message supposedly sent by Julius Caesar to the Roman Senate to describe a battle in 47 BC. For the writer? “Veni, vidi, scripsi” (I came, I saw, I wrote)
  13. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
    “For the Greater Glory of God” – see 1 Corinthians 10:31. Johann Sebastian Bach also used the initials A.M.D.G.
  14. Mea Culpa
    “By my fault” – or in common language today, “My bad.”
  15. Pro Bono.
    “Done without charge” – Incorrectly used by fans of U2.

26 Responses to 15 Latin Phrases Every Writer Should Know

  1. Avatar
    Robin Patchen May 28, 2012 at 5:31 am #

    Don’t forget, “Expecto patronum”–Harry Potter’s spell for protecting himself against the evil Dementors. It means “I await a protector.” I was teaching Latin to home schooled middle schoolers a few years ago, and we had a lot of fun looking up and translating the Latin spells and charms in the Harry Potter books. A rare and wonderful (and fleeting) way to get kids interested in Latin.

  2. Avatar
    Diana Harkness May 28, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    Good list but don’t forget alter ego for those psychological thrillers, alma mater for nostalgic dramas, modus operendi for crime novels, non sequitur for any sort of argument, per annum, per diem, per capita for economics and I’ll stop there because even though I have never studied latin, I use its words frequently (although I try to keep them out of my writing.)

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube May 28, 2012 at 8:35 am #

      Excellent additions. I originally started with 10 but thought, “why not expand the list a little” and then it began to grow exponentially the more I thought about the Latin phrases we use and hear all the time.

  3. Avatar
    Richard Mabry May 28, 2012 at 6:42 am #

    Then again, there’s the modern day version that goes “Vini, Vidi, VISA” (I came, I saw, I did a little shopping).

    • Avatar
      JennyM May 28, 2012 at 7:07 am #

      So true!

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube May 28, 2012 at 8:33 am #


    • Avatar
      Margo Carmichael January 9, 2014 at 9:17 am #

      Wonderful, Richard!

  4. Avatar
    Jeanne May 28, 2012 at 6:46 am #

    Fun list. 🙂 I loved the tidbits I learned in it. I’m not sure which tickled my funny bone more: “Pro Bono”–incorrectly used by U2 fans or your thoughts on “Caveat Emptor.” Yes, I pressed the one-click on Amazon before realizing it would make the purchase a done deal rather than something I checked out a little more. Gotta watch my bad habits and remember, “Caveat Emptor.”

  5. Avatar
    JennyM May 28, 2012 at 7:08 am #

    Pro Bono? Totally accurate. Everyone knows before he became “pro Bono” he was “Amature Bono”, mostly doing seedy clubs and getting paid in pints.

  6. Avatar
    Heidi Kortman May 28, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    Having chosen German as my language class in high school, I don’t know everything I should about latin tenses. Therefore I am wondering if these writers’ alternatives in examples 3 and 12 contain an inadvertent typo:

    Sribo ergo sum

    Veni, vidi, scripsi.

    Should Sribo be Scribo?

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube May 28, 2012 at 8:33 am #

      Thank you for catching the typo. Latin is not my primary language! 😉

    • Avatar
      DJ Brown March 31, 2020 at 10:52 am #

      Now that it’s a “dead” language, Latin can be taught from a book about an inch thick.

      To keep up with all the idiosyncratic “script-os” used by the dozens of infamous scribes of the past, you will need something closer in size to Encyclopedia Britannica.

      ~Not my primary language but it was for my great, great, etc. grandparents when the Romans came conquering.

  7. Avatar
    Ruth May 28, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    Good to know! Thank you!! Hopefully I won’t have to use Mea Culpa to my fans in my lifetime. 😉

  8. Avatar
    JennyM May 28, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    Soooo, this isn’t Pig Latin, like we learned at camp?

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube May 28, 2012 at 9:32 am #

      Ennyjay, Ouyay ancay akemay isthay ommentcay ectionsay almostway
      anythingway ouyay antway itway otay ebay.

      • Avatar
        JennyM May 28, 2012 at 11:35 am #

        Ouyay ockray!

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        JennyM May 28, 2012 at 11:42 am #

        And in other news, this wording actually looks like Quechua!

      • Avatar
        Margo Carmichael January 9, 2014 at 9:16 am #

        I love the article.
        And how would you spell “Oy!” in Pig Latin?

  9. Avatar
    John May 28, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    Hey what about the all important
    NINUM CUM POOPUM- dang I can’t remember what the english is on this one

  10. Avatar
    Patti Jo Moore May 28, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    Loved reading all these phrases (both the true and the “not so true” LOL). The only one I can think of to add is one from my teaching days (I never used this, of course!) but a co-worker used this one in reference to an unruly student: Dingus Battis 😉

  11. Avatar
    Jennifer Dyer May 29, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    Y’all crack me up!
    Thanks for another great post and the giggles!

  12. Avatar
    Peter DeHaan May 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    Gee, I’m still trying to master the 15 English phrases every writer should know!

  13. Avatar
    Tina Radcliffe June 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    You brought back memories of high school Latin class. I have mixed emotions here.

  14. Avatar
    Margo Carmichael November 5, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    Thank you, I think! 🙂

  15. Avatar
    Nick March 27, 2017 at 7:32 am #

    You all hear the Latin Phrase “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi”

    Translated as:

    Gloria puked in the van last Monday

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