Latin Famous Phrases and US State Mottos

Have you ever heard anyone say, “with a grain of salt” or “seize the day”? The Latin language has had many influences on how we speak and what we say today, and one of the influences are famous phrases. In everyday conversations one might hear phrases thrown around which solely originated from the Latin language, or might see phrases in ordinary places such as the dollar bill. Some of these phrases are simple to understand with context while others are more difficult to understand. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will be inspired to use some of these phrases in your conversations and understand what they mean if you hear the phrases used. 

Famous Phrases 

  1. ante meridiem (A.M.) – before noon (this is one commonly used because whenever you say 8AM or 10AM you are talking about the time 8 o’clock before noon – in the morning)
  2. carpe diem – seize the day (someone would use this phrase when they are emphasizing the fact that you only live once so enjoy life to the fullest – seize the day!)
  3. contra bonos mores – against good morals (when someone goes against their morals)
  4. cum grano salis – with a grain of salt (this usually means to be skeptical of what someone is saying and not totally believe them because they could be exaggerating)
  5. dramatis personae – characters of the play (you might see this at the beginning of a “published piece of drama” where all the characters are listed)
  6. e pluribus unum – one out of many; out of many, one (if you ever look at a dollar bill ‘e pluribus unum’ is written in the little tag above the eagle)
  7. festina lente – make haste slowly (this is a phrase used to balance doing something fast versus doing something well with attention to detail and no mistakes – if you ever hear someone telling you to ‘make hast slowly’, they are telling you to take your time)
  8. in loco parentis – in place of a parent (this is more like a babysitter or someone who temporarily takes the place of a parent)
  9. lapsus linguae – slip of the tongue (if you ever say something accidentally or say something wrong that is a ‘slip of the tongue’)
  10. modus operandi – method of operating (the way in which a person “operates”/does things)
  11. multum in parvo – much in little (something so little can still hold a lot or if someone says something short but there is a lot of meaning behind it)
  12. rara avis – the unique bird (a metaphor for an unique person)
  13.  summa cum laude – with the highest praise (if you or someone else graduates ‘summa cum laude’, they are graduating at the top of their class with the highest praise)
  1. ad nauseam – to the point of sickness (if you are ever in a car, plane, boat and feel sick you are ‘ad nauseam’)
  2. alias – another name (an ‘alias’ can be someone else that is like another person 0r just another name)
  3. amor omnia vincit – love conquers all (this is the famous phrase that means love conquers all and with love everything else is destroyed)
  4. per se – all by itself (someone would use this in substitution to the word necessarily, such as, “he wasn’t angry per se, he just wasn’t happy”)
  5. post mortem – after death (no, this is not P.M. but just means after death…)
  6. quid pro quo – something for something; this for that (this is used for exchanges of favors, goods, services, and other values)
  7. tempus fugit – time is running away (this can be used when time is flying or there is not much time left)
  8. vice versa – the other way around (this is a commonly used phrase in conversation)
  9.  per angusta ad augusta – through difficulties towards greatness (difficulties will lead to greatness) 
  10. post proelium praemium – after the battle the reward (after hard times something good will occur, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow) 
  11.  qualis pater talis filius – like father like son 
  12.  tabula rasa – clean slate (a fresh start; everything is “new”)
  13. terra firma – solid ground (when one hits solid ground after “flying” for a bit)

US State Mottos 

  1. ad astra per aspera – to the stars through difficulties [Kansas] 
  2. justitia omnibus – justice for all [District of Columbia. D.C.]
  1. ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem – by the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty [Massachusetts]
  2. excelsior – ever upward [New York]
  3. esse quam videri – to be, rather than to seem [North Carolina]
  1. labor omnia vincit – work conquers all [Oklahoma]

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