What’s the big deal about Latin, anyway? Well, may of the traditions and concepts we live by in our modern western civilization are taken from ideas dreamt up by speakers of this ancient tongue. The language of the Roman Empire for centuries, many words we continue to use are derived from Latin. In certain professions like law, Latin expressions are employed on a regular basis. Here are just a few of the many you might hear pop up in modern day conversation:
Carpe Diem: This expression meaning “seize the day” was popularized by the Robin Williams movie Dead Poet’s Society. Williams plays the role of a teacher at an exclusive New England boarding school and used the expression to encourage his students to let go of their inhibitions and seek out their dreams. In other words: “You want to play for the NFL? Then ‘carpe diem’ and get yourself up off that couch and do 100 push-ups!” The expression is used to encourage bold action and to abandon procrastination, similar in spirit to the well-known adage “there’s no time like the present.”
Bon Fide: The literal meaning of this one, which is “good faith”, is a bit different from its usage and common meaning, which is to denote something that is genuine or real, not fake. The “good faith” connection is the idea that it something honest and truthful, as opposed to bad faith, which suggests deception or inaccuracy. A “bona fide” gentleman is a real gentleman just like you can be assured that handbag at Saks 5th Avenue is the “bona fide” real deal.
E Pluribus Unum: When you say this one, pretty much everyone is familiar with it and may even know it is on the official seal of the U.S.A. and many coins. But ask someone what it means and 9 times out of 10 you will get a blank stare. “Out of many, one” is an expression thought originally to have been adopted to describe the unity and coming together of many states into a single country during revolutionary times, but has now taken on a more generic meaning describing the uniting of America’s many religions and races under one nation.
Caveat Emptor: We’ve all become so accustomed to returning purchases we were unhappy with to Costco or Walmart for a full refund or exchange, that this concept doesn’t have as much application today as it did in the ancient world. But those of us who have experienced butterflies when we bought our first car after handing over a wad of hard-earned cash to a total stranger, can relate to this concept that means “buyer beware.” The gist of it is that if you are going to buy something, it is up to you to fully investigate it and make sure you know what you are getting, because once you hand over that dough, it’s yours and you better hope you got what you bargained for.
In Vino Veritas: The idea that “in wine there is truth” means that people who have loosened up with a few alcoholic drinks are more likely to let their guard down and tell you how they really feel about something. That friend who is always boasting about how much money he makes? Well, after 7 shots of tequila he might confess that he’s up to his ears in debt and he can barely afford that monthly payment on his BMW.
Semper Fidelis: This one meaning “always faithful” pretty much explains itself and the shortened version Semper Fi is most famously known as the motto of the United States Marine Corps.
Alea Iacta Est: Those of you with a dramatic flair might want to toss out this one at your next cocktail party. “The die is cast” describes some sequence of events that has already been set in motion. When your buddy tells you he just sent a text breaking up with his girlfriend and that she better remove her stuff from his apartment by noon tomorrow, you could reply “alea lacta Est.” Of course, your reply could also be: You are a jerk.