My husband has developed a small obsession with Latin, lately.
He is not a scholar nor has any knowledge of the language, he just finds that Latin is a more elegant and austere language than Italian so he throws Latin words here and there, in his conversation.
He obviously does it as a joke and by mainly adding the suffix -um to Italian words but this weird passion of him has made us talk about Latin quite a bit recently and even gave me the idea for this blog post.
He wanted me to suggest to him some Latin phrases to use in his conversation and, while I was drawing on my high school studies to give him an answer, I realized that there are a lot of Latin words and phrases that we use in everyday Italian.
Therefore I thought that it could be a fun idea for a blog post to give you a list of some of the most common Latin phrases that we normally use when we speak Italian, sometimes even without being fully aware that such word or phrase comes from that language.
Needless to say, this list could be way longer because, steaming directly from Latin, the Italian language is full of words that come from that language. So I obviously had to make a selection because otherwise this blog post would turn into a book and I just picked the phrases and expressions, not the single words.
Also, as I always do with these kinds of posts, I have created a downloadable pdf file for you to keep. You can find it in Your Italian Toolbox, the page on my site where I upload all language learning material. You get access to Your Italian Toolbox if you subscribe to my newsletter.
So, here is a list of some of the common Latin phrases used in everyday Italian.
Ad hoc: it means ‘appropriate, fitting, perfect for something, created specifically for someone or something’. Example: “Hanno creato un vestito ad hoc per l’occasione” (They have designed a proper dress for the occasion).
Ad interim: it means ‘in the meantime’ and it is used as an adjective to describe a temporary position, someone who replaces somebody else for a limited period of time. Example: “Quello è il presidente ad interim, è in carica finché quello nuovo sarà eletto” (That is the temporary President, he’ll be in charge until the new one is elected).
Ad maiora: this literally means “towards bigger things” and it is commonly used as a positive wish, something you say to somebody who has just started a new career, for example, wishing this is only the beginning of a brighter career.
Ante litteram: it is used to describe someone or something that is ahead of their time. Example: “Mia nonna riciclava tutto. Era veramente un’ecologista ante litteram” (My grandma used to recycle everything. She was really an environmentalist ahead of her time).
Brevi manu: this expression means in person, personally. Example: “Hai consegnato il libro a Marco?” “Sì, sì, gliel’ho proprio consegnato brevi manu” (Have you given the book to Marco? Yes, I have given it to him personally).
Carpe diem: this is probably one of the most famous Latin expressions. It comes from an ode by the Latin poet Horace and literally means pluck the day, seize the day. It expresses the idea that one should enjoy life while one can. Example: “Quindi hai deciso di partire?” “Sì, vediamo come va. Carpe diem!” (Have you decided to leave then? Yes, let’s see how it goes! Carpe diem!).
Deo gratias: this phrase basically means ‘we thank God’ and it is used when something positive happens after dreading that something worse was going to happen. It can also mean ‘finally’. Example: “Sei arrivato finalmente! Deo gratias!” (You have finally arrived! Thank God!).
Deus ex machina: this comes from the Greek tragedy, where God was brought on the scene by a machine (the phrase literally means ‘God from the machine’). It is used to describe the person that solves a difficult problem or situation, or makes it have a positive outcome. Example: “Esci con Sara finalmente!” “Sì, mio fratello è stato il deus ex machina della situazione” (You are finally going out with Sara! Yes, my brother has made it happen).
Errata corrige: this literally means ‘correct the mistakes’ and it is normally used to correct something that has been written or said before. It is mainly used in writing but you can also hear it in conversation. Example: “Dai ci vediamo alle sei. Errata corrige: ci vediamo alle sette” (I’ll see you at six. Correction: I’ll see you at seven).
Ex aequo: it is used to mean equally placed, often in reference to sports and competitions. Example: “I due piloti sono arrivati primi ex aequo” (Both two pilots finished first).
Ex novo: this expression means from scratch, from the beginning. Example: “La cucina è stata ristrutturata?” “È stata completamente rifatta ex novo, abbiamo cambiato tutti i pezzi” (Has the kitchen been restored? It’s been completely redone from scratch, we changed everything).
In extremis: this literally means at the point of death but it is used with the meaning of ‘at the very last moment’. For example: “Sono riuscito a prendere il volo in extremis, pensavo davvero che non ce l’avrei fatta” (I managed to catch my flight at the very last minute, I really thought I wouldn’t make it).
In flagrante: the meaning of this expression is ‘while doing something wrong’. For example: “La polizia ha colto i ladri in flagrante” (The police caught the thieves while they were robbing).
In itinere: it literally means ‘en route’ or ‘traveling’ and it is used to describe something, usually a procedure or something that has to do with bureaucracy, that is not over, that is ongoing. For example: “Durante il corso ci sarà una valutazione degli studenti in itinere e una valutazione finale” (The assessment of the students will take place during the course and at the end of it).
In loco: this expression means ‘on the spot, locally’. For example: “Preferisco comprare la verdura coltivata in loco” (I prefer to buy vegetables that are grown locally).
In primis: this means ‘in the first place, firstly, first of all’. An example: “Ragazzi, voglio dirvi alcune cose. In primis, ricordate di spegnere la luce quando uscite di casa” (Kids, I want to tell you something. First of all, remember to turn the lights off before leaving the house).
Inter nos: the meaning of this expression is ‘between you and me’. You use it when you want to ask somebody not to tell something you are saying. For example: “Per favore, ti racconto questa cosa, ma voglio che rimanga inter nos” (I am going to tell you this but, please, this is between you and me).
Mare magnum: this expression was used by the ancient people to describe the immense sea that they believed was around the land they knew. It is used to describe a huge and sometimes messy amount of stuff. For example: “In Italia sono pubblicati moltissimi libri ogni anno e spesso i libri buoni si perdono nel mare magnum dei libri in vendita” (Lots of books are published yearly and often good books are lost in the sea of books on sale).
Melius habundare quam deficere: this sentence roughly translates as ‘it is better to abound than to be in short supply’ and it is commonly used, in Italian, shortened as “meglio abbondare“. For example: “Mamma mia, hai comprato tantissima roba per la festa” “Sì, meglio abbondare” (Oh God, you’ve bought a lot of things for the party! Yes, it’s better to have a huge supply).
Minus habens: this expression means ‘he who has less’ and it is commonly used to describe a person who lacks in intelligence, who is not really smart, someone who is stupid or dumb. For example: “Hai visto cosa ha fatto Francesco? Ha rotto il vetro della porta” Sì, è veramente un minus habens” (Have you seen what Francesco has done? He’s broken the door glass! Yes, he’s a really stupid guy).
Non plus ultra: the legend says that this phrase was written on the Pillars of Hercules to state the fact that there wasn’t anything else beyond them, as a way to warn sailors not to travel beyond the edge of the known world. It is commonly used in Italian with the meaning of ultimate, the best. For example: “Questo marca è il non plus ultra dell’abbigliamento femminile” (This brand is the best in women’s fashion).
Opera omnia: this expression describes the complete works produced by an author or an artist. For example: “Conosco perfettamente l’opera omnia di Shakespeare” (I know all the works of Shakespeare perfectly).
Repetita juvant: the meaning of this sentence is ‘it is useful to repeat’ and it is used in situations like this: “Ricordati di tornare a casa entro le 11″ “Me lo hai già detto tre volte!” “Repetita juvant” (Remember to be home by 11. But you’ve already told me three times! Repeating is always good).
Status quo: this expression can be translated as ‘the situation/condition as it is’. For example: “I politici non vogliono mai cambiare le cose, loro preferiscono mantenere lo status quo” (Politicians never want to change things, they always prefer to keep things as they are).
Sua sponte: this means ‘their own free will’ and is commonly used in Italian as an adverb. For example: “Hai costretto Francesca a venire alla festa?” “No, è venuta di sua sponte!” (Did you force Francesca to come to the party? No, she came of her own free will!).
Sui generis: this can be roughly translated as ‘of its own gender’ and it is now used in Italian to describe someone or something that cannot be easily defined, that is original and unique, and that cannot be connected to a specific category. For example: “Che strano che è tuo fratello!” “Sì, è proprio un tipo sui generis” (How weird is your brother! Yes, he’s a really unique guy).
Tabula rasa: this phrase was used by the Latins to describe the board they used to write on after erasing everything that had been written on it. In Italian, it is commonly used in the expression “fare tabula rasa“, which means to erase everything that there was before. For example: “Quando Marco ha conosciuto Francesca, ha fatto tabula rasa di tutti i suoi amici. Lei poteva uscire solo con lui” (When Marco met Francesca, he canceled all her friends. She could only go out with him).
Una tantum: this expression means ‘one time only’ and it is mainly used in bureaucracy and administrative areas. For example: “Devo ripetere questo pagamento il prossimo anno?” No, è un pagamento una tantum” (Do I have to repeat this payment next year? No, you pay only once).
I hope you’ll find this post fun and useful! By the way, are some of these phrases used in your language too?
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