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Interesting Etymologies 33 : Latin

"Hello again Word Lovers!" In this instalment we are going to look at Latin that has survived from the Latin era into Modern English. Much of this is used almost exclusively in legal terminology. There is a fashion in English law to deliberately mispronounce Latin so in the podcast and YouTube recording Charly will be using this legal "pronunciation" before you send off furious missives of complaint.

Legal Latin

Bona Fide

Originally picked up and used in the stock exchanges of the 1770s meaning "good thing". Now means genuine, real or authentic as an adjective but in legal terms means to act in good faith or intention. Bonus - Good/useful/working from Proto Italic dweno - good. Probably originally from PIE deu - to do.

Mens Rea

If you commit a crime with a guilty mind you are doing it with "mens rea". The PIE root men meaning to think, mental or mind.

Caveat Emptor

A legal term "Let the buyer beware". It is the Latin subjunctive of cavēre (to beware) with ēmptor (buyer). It has become a proverb in English. The legal term is a contract law principle that is a discalimer that comes from the fact that buyers typically have less information than the seller. It is an abbreviation of the phrase Caveat emptor, quia ignorare non debuit quod jus alienum emit ("Let a purchaser beware, for he ought not to be ignorant of the nature of the property which he is buying from another party.")

De facto/De jure

Jure is probably pronounced ure as there was no j sound in Latin. This probably goes back to PIE yews to mean right. De facto literally means "in fact". It is used to describe the a practice exists even if not recognised by law, wheras De jure refers to practice covered by law.

Habeas Corpus

An important legal concept. It means "you have the body" and in a legal context is a recourse against false imprisonment. A court demands presentation of the authority under which a person is held and if the custodian is deemed not have such authority the prisoner must be released. The phrase probably comes to Latin from PIE kwrpes from kwrep - body or form to corpus body in Latin.

Philosophical Latin

Post Hoc ergo Propter Hoc (after this, therefore because of this) a fallacy which describes the conflation of correlation and causality.

Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) Descarte's most famous contribution to philosophy.

Latin in Mottos

Mottos - derived from Latin itself muttum (mutter) is a mission or motivational credo or statement for a family or institution.

Per ardua ad astra - "through adversity to the stars" is the official motto of the Royal Air Force. An adaptation of the line Sic itur ad astr from Virgil (such is the pathway to the stars). The suggestion is credited to Lieutenant J.S. Yule who had mused on Colonel Frederick Syke's request for ideas for a motto for the Royal Flying Corps in 1912.It is possible Yule had borrowed the phrase from Sir Henry Rider Haggard's fantasy novel The People of the Mist (1894) and it is equally plausible that Haggard was familiar with the line from the Mulvany family of Ireland who had used it as a family motto for centuries.

Some of the most famous football clubs in the world have Latin mottos:

Audere est facere - "To dare is to do" is the motto of Tottenham Hotspur (Ed: makes sense for a team who have been genetically incapable of defending for 50 years)

Nil Satis Nisi Optimum - "Nothing but the best" is the motto for Everton.

Further legal terms

Affidavit - "He has sworn"

Innuendo - "by nodding"

Subpoena - "Under penalty"

Non compos mentis - "Not of composed mind" which mutated into an insult, learn more in IE23 Insults

Veto - "I forbid"

In camera - "In secret", evolved from "in chamber" which itself comes from Greek but with no record of anything prior. It meant an enclosed space which explains why camera means what it does in modern English.

Post mortem - "after death". The PIE root of mortem is mer meaning to rub away or harm.

High brow expressions

Inter alia - amongst other things

Ipso facto - by that fact alone

In extremis - in extreme conditions

In flagrante - in compromising conditions

Onus - a burden or a load

Charly then launches into a very interesting exploration of prefix lineage via Latin and then a list of examples of abbreviations from Latin. To find out more listen to the podcast or YouTube episode at the top of the article.

Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

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