A motley combination of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Germanic dialects, the English language (more or less as we know it) coalesced between the 9th and 13th centuries.
Since then, it has continued to import and borrow words and expressions from around the world, and the meanings have mutated. However, despite the passage of time, some have not and retain their ancient roots to this day.
In this article we look at some of the more common Latin phrases and abbreviations that have survived and are still in use in everyday language, even after a couple of thousand years.
EVERYDAY LATIN PHRASES
i.e. is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase id est meaning “that is,” or “in other words.” The term introduces an explanation of a previous paraphrase, as in: “Dr. Doolittle, reported that he had only ‘a few’ pets, i.e., he had more animals on his property than the London Zoo.” I.e. is only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence. The periods and closing comma are used in American English, though they’re unnecessary in English speaking-countries outside of North America, i.e., the UK, Australia, and Ireland.
E.g. is an acronym for the Latin phrase exempli gratia meaning “for example” or literally translated, “for the sake of example.” The phrase introduces an example of a reference made earlier in the sentence, as in: “She felt that large lizards were widely misunderstood (e.g. the delicate gila monster).” E.g. is only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence and can be flanked by commas or parenthesis. If you’re worried about confusing e.g. and i.e., remember: use e.g. to provide an example and i.e. to explain one.
Et al. is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase et alii meaning “and others.” The term references groups of people (not things). Et al. is useful for citations and referring to a group by a few of its members, as in: “The city often relied on superheroes: Captain Planet, Wonder Woman, Batman et al.” The term is only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence, and it always takes a period. However you can decide whether or not to put a comma before it.
This common abbreviation etc. represents the Latin phrase et cetera meaning “and so forth” or literally “and the rest.” Etc. abbreviates lists of things (not people) in which unlisted items can be deduced from the existing list and listing them would be truly unnecessary. For example: “He could see dragons in every type of cloud (stratus, nimbus, cumulous, etc.).” Etc. is always followed by a period. At the end of a list, it is preceded by a comma, as though it were simply the next term in line.
Viz. is an abbreviated contraction of the Latin term videre licit which became videlicet meaning “namely” or “that is to say.” The term introduces a description or clarification of an idea stated earlier. Viz. has an interesting etymology in that the addition of the “z” was not originally a letter but a twirl, representing the Medieval Latin shorthand symbol for the suffix “-et,” as in videlicet.
Q.E.D. is an acronym for the Latin phrase quod erat demonstrandum meaning “which was to be demonstrated.” The term is most often used at the end of a mathematical or philosophical proof when that which was hypothesized has been proved, e.g., Rene Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am–insert countless volumes of philosophical inquiry–Q.E.D. I think, therefore I am.”
Ipso facto was adopted into English directly from the Latin. The phrase means “by the fact itself” or “by the very nature of the deed.” In a sentence, ipso facto indicates that the event that follows it is a direct consequence of the event that precedes it. For example: “I’m forswearing all technology. Ipso facto you can have my stereo.” Like many deeply integrated loanwords, there is no need to italicize ipso facto in common usage.
Quid pro quo
This phrase is on loan to English directly from the Latin meaning “one thing in return for another.” Quid pro quo functions as a noun referring to a fair trade or reciprocal exchange. The phrase often appears in diplomacy. For example, “The Bronx Zoo has finally agreed to give us a polar bear, but they’re asking for a quid pro quo. How many grizzlies should we give them?”
This Latin adverb literally translates as “to the point of seasickness.” In English, when something happens ad nauseam, it goes on endlessly, to a sickening or nauseating extent. For example, “Recently, the acronym ‘YOLO’ has been used ad nauseam.”