Latin Words and Phrases in English

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Latin words and phrases are used in English in a number of different contexts.

  • Some Latin words and phrases are used in everyday non-specialist contexts. For example, the expression ne plus ultra (literally 'not further beyond') is used to mean the highest or best form or instance of some kind of thing or person, as in "Agatha Christie is the ne plus ultra of crime writers"; and in flagrante delicto (literally 'in the heat of the crime') is used to mean 'in the very act of doing wrong or committing the offence', as in "The burglar was caught in flagrante delicto", i.e., in the very act of committing the burglary. For some advice on how to say these words in a dead language, see Pronunciation of Classical Latin.
  • Other Latin words and phrases are part of the specialist vocabulary of, e.g., the law or philosophy. For example, ad litem (literally 'for the lawsuit') - a guardian ad litem is a person appointed by a court to represent, e.g. a child's interests in the context of a lawsuit; res judicata (literally 'matter [already] judged') is an issue on which a decision has already been given and which cannot be raised again; a priori (literally 'from what comes before') - in philosophy an a priori truth is a truth which can be known before, or independently of, any experience of the world. To see how these words are usually spoken in English courts of law, go to Pronunciation of 'Lawyers' Latin'.
  • Besides this, Ecclesiastical or Church Latin was for centuries the language used for services in the Roman Catholic Church and was, as it still is, often the language of sacred texts set to music by composers in the Western European tradition. There is an article on this at Pronunciation of Ecclesiastical or Church Latin.

These different conventions in English for the pronunciation of Latin are used in three different contexts. Roughly speaking, in the first context Latin is pronounced as it is believed to have been spoken by Romans of the classical period (i.e., the first century BCE and the first century CE); in the second context Latin is pronounced as if it were English, with a few exceptions; and in the third context Latin is pronounced as if it were Italian. (It can be said that Italian is a modern form of Latin - see Romance languages.)

For more examples of Latin words and phrases which are used in English see Category:Latin words and phrases.