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Latin Words to Live By ("Love Conquers All" & More)

Top 10 Latin Phrases


Over the centuries, certain Latin phrases have been used widely enough in English to get included in the dictionary. This list contains some of our favorites.

What It Means:

"love conquers all things"

Where It Comes From:

Shortly before the start of the first millennium, the Roman poet Virgil wrote "love conquers all things; let us too surrender to Love."

The phrase and the concept (in Latin and in English) caught on: a character in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, written in the late 1300s, wore a brooch engraved "Amor Vincit Omnia"; Caravaggio used the phrase as the title of his painting of Cupid in the early seventeenth century; the twentieth century poet Edgar Bowers reinterpreted the phrase all over again in the poem with that title.

Photo: nicolrene.tumblr.com

What It Means:

"there is truth in wine"

Where It Comes From:

It has long been obvious that alcohol can cause people to say things they otherwise wouldn't.

In the first century AD, Pliny the Elder referred to the "common proverb that in wine, there is truth [in vino veritas]."

What It Means:

"enjoy the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future" (literally, "pluck the day")

Where It Comes From:

During the 1st century BC, the Roman poet Horace wrote, "Seize the day; put no trust in the morrow."

The notion of living for the moment crops up over centuries of poetry, including in the writings of Shakespeare, Milton and Byron.

Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," written in the 1600s, has been called the "carpe diem" poem. In it, the narrator urges his love to submit to his embraces before "worms shall try / That long-preserved virginity."

What It Means:

"the useful with the agreeable"

Where It Comes From:

In Ars Poetica, Horace offered this advice:

"He who joins the useful with the agreeable, wins every vote, by delighting and at the same time instructing the reader."

In other words, the successful poet - or more broadly, communicator - combines the edifying with the enjoyable, turns business into pleasure.

What It Means:

"always faithful"

Where It Comes From:

These two words have long served as motto for families, schools, and organizations - most famously, since 1883, for the United States Marine Corps.

Semper Fidelis is also the title of the USMC march, composed by John Phillips Sousa.

What It Means:

"let the buyer beware"

Where It Comes From:

In early Roman law, sales of goods were governed by caveat emptor: buyers were advised to scrutinize the goods before purchase, because sellers had few obligations.

Over time, the imperative of caveat emptor has been softened by warranties, both express and implied.

What It Means:

"after this, therefore on account of it"

Where It Comes From:

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc refers to the logical mistake of claiming that one thing caused another just because it happened first.

For example, the rooster crows and the sun rises - but to argue that the rooster's crowing causes the sun to rise would be post hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning. A more familiar example might be when politicians take credit for improvements that occurred after they took office - as if their policies necessarily caused those improvements.

(It was Aristotle who laid the groundwork for classifying bad arguments based on logical errors like this one.)

What It Means:

"through difficulties to honors"

Where It Comes From:

These four words have inspired students and soldiers for centuries. Alternative translations include "through trial to triumph" and "through difficulties to great things."

The first known use of the term is lost in time.

What It Means:

"if you seek his monument, look around"

Where It Comes From:

It took 35 years to complete London's magnificent St. Paul's Cathedral. When its architect, Sir Christopher Wren, died twelve years later in 1723, he was entombed inside, under a simple slab of black marble.

Wren's son placed a dedication nearby, which contains the words "Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice" ("Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you").

The phrase is generally used to describe a person's legacy - and can be taken to mean that what we leave behind (including intangible things like relationships) best represents our life.

Aere Perennius

What It Means:

"more lasting than bronze"

Where It Comes From:

In the final poem in his third book of Odes, Horace boasts that his poetry will outlive any manmade monument: "Exegi monumentum aere perennius." ("I have made a monument more lasting than bronze.")

Given that his words continue to be used two thousand years later, perhaps he's right.




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