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Latin expressions used in English - Part 1


You may think of Latin as a dead language, and though it is true that it is no longer spoken outside of classrooms, Latin is the root of many English words. Furthermore, many Latin phrases and expressions have survived and are often used interspersed with English. Let’s take a look at a few.

  • Et cetera, often abbreviated to ‘etc.’, is perhaps one of the most commonly used Latin phrases in day-to-day conversations. The expression directly translates to ‘and the rest’ and we usually use it at the end of a list as a way of saying ‘and all the other things’ or ‘and so on’.

    Example sentence: The Spellzone course uses a range of spelling techniques: word lists, spelling tests, word games, et cetera

  • We can perhaps work out what ad nauseam means from the fact that ‘nauseam’ sounds rather like the word ‘nauseous’. The term describes something that has been done so many times that it has become tiresome – in other words, it has been repeated to the point of nausea.

    Example sentence: He went over the spelling rules ad nauseam.

  • In camera, on the other hand, is more deceiving. Though today’s celebrity-driven culture may give the impression that the term means ‘in the spotlight’ or ‘on the red carpet’, it actually refers to the opposite. The modern camera, a device used to take photographs, descends from the camera obscura which is ‘a darkened box with a convex lens or aperture for projecting the image of an external object on to a screen inside’. These ‘darkened boxes’ would have been large, even room-sized, and camera obscura takes its name from the Latin word ‘camera’ which means ‘vaulted room’ or ‘chamber’. In camera is a legal term which means ‘in private’; the English equivalent would be ‘in court chambers’.

    Example sentence: The court case is being heard in camera.

  • De facto is another Latin term with legal roots. The expression means ‘in fact’ or ‘in reality’ and it refers to something that exists but may not necessarily be legally ordained. The phrase is often used to contrast the term ‘de jure’ which means ‘in law’. Within a legal situation, ‘de jure’ refers to what is legally allowed to happen, whereas ‘de facto’ refers to what is happening in actuality.

    Example sentence: The United Kindom does not have a de jure official language; however, one could argue that the de facto official language is English.

These examples are only a handful of the many Latin terms that are still used in English today, and if you’re anything like me you’ll use them all the time without even realising it. I’d better start working on part 2 of this post, but, in the mean time, make sure to keep an eye out for next week’s Halloween post where we’ll take a look at some common idioms and their spooky origins. Ever wonder where the phrase ‘saved by the bell’ comes from? Tune in next week to find out!

Avani Shah


21 Oct 2013
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