Even though Latin is considered a dead language (no country officially speaks it), its influence on other languages makes it still important. Latin words and expressions are present in virtually all languages around the world, as well as in different scientific and academic fields.
From Latin words to numerals and prefixes there are countless words still in use. Lawyers say ‘alibi’ instead of elsewhere. Homo is what we mean by human. Terra in Latin means earth. How voice is called Latin? Of course, vox. And who is not familiar with words like a semi, uni, duo, penta, and hexa? Then there are words like infra, inter, micro, macro, tele, multi, and omni –all with Latin/Greek origin.
We are all very well used to Latin phrases like de jure and de facto, et al. The et al. at the end really makes one chuckle. Is, then, Latin a dead language? It May not be. Because there are numerous examples of such usage -not totally obscure ones, but phrases commonly used in English. There are words like ad hoc arguments, quid pro quo agreements, et cetera, and ad nauseam which are used frequently by journalists.
Latin is not really dead. Rather it is kicking. Mark these Latin expressions: a priori (if you think something a priori, you are conceiving it before seeing the facts.), ad inifinitum (you could say that your wife hassles you ad infinitum), ceteris paribus (other things being equal), honoris causa (granting a doctorate to someone without the formal requirements of exams and the like), mutatis mutandis (with necessary changes), ex parte (an ex parte decision is one decided by a judge without requiring all of the parties to the controversy to be present.) and pro bono (lawyers working on the case not charging a fee).
And what about Latin phrases? Haven’t you heard of veni vidi vici (I came, I saw, I conquered- said by Julius Caesar upon the victory over Pharnaces, king of Pontus) or, for that matter, cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am – originally said in French by René Descartes which is a cornerstone of Western philosophy).
Do a little poking around and you will find that the best place to look up the meanings of Latin phrases is in a regular English dictionary. If you don’t have one at hand, you can of course find one online. Online sites are better because they gather definitions from several different online dictionaries, which allow one to assemble more shades of meaning and avoid the defects of any one particular dictionary.
A quick Google search would take you to two websites devoted to lists of Latin phrases used in English. The first list them alphabetically, the second by topic (e.g., medical versus legal), which may be less useful. Yet, the definitions given on online sites don’t seem to be as good as those in Webster’s English dictionary.
Just as the magnificent achievements of the Classical world live on as the indispensable foundation of our civilization, so also Latin lives on as a vital part of the English language, not just in these phrases but in the myriad English words derived from Latin roots.
(The author Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar based senior journalist and columnist. Views are personal)
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