Thursday, April 3, 2014


For my own notes and perhaps helpful to others, I'm going to catalog the Latinisms that I have run into in my academic reading recently, including the tried-and-true variants known to "normal" people. It seems that running across many of these should raise red flags as to the intent of the writer, but with earlier works (pre-1960, at least) the average scholar used such coded language as a matter of course. This is not an exhaustive list.

  • et alii - known better as et al. Translates as "and others" and usually stands in for a list of multiple authors.
  • et cetera - known better as etc. or &c. Translates "and the rest"
  • ex ante - "from before"
  • ante bellum - "before the war"
  • a priori AND a posteriori - "from the former" and "from the latter," though their translations don't quite show their usage. A priori means presupposed or known ahead of time. The typical example is the argument "All bachelors are single," because the meaning of the word bachelor is "single man." A posteriori refers to something known from observation and is the reverse of a priori, the typical example being "Some bachelors are unhappy."
  • ah hoc - "to this," again the translation doesn't help. It refers to unplanned or unforeseen events, an ad hoc decision being one made with limited knowledge or forethought.
  • ad hominem - "to the man," refers to arguments made by attacking the person arguing. Thus, this is the name of a logical fallacy. "Don't believe his argument because he dropped out of college."
  • ad infinitum, or the more popular, ad nauseum - these expressions describe long lists, long arguments, or other interminable things, meaning either "to infinity" or "to the point of sickness."
  • ad libitum - known better as ad lib, "toward pleasure," or "as one pleases." It generally refers to improvisation.
  • alibi - meaning "elsewhere." This one is pretty obvious.
  • alma mater - "nourishing mother."
  • bona fide - "in good faith," "well-intentioned," and the plural is not bona fides but bonis fidebus, but getting correct is probably more damning that following custom.
  • casus belli - "cause of war."
  • caveat emptor - "let the buyer beware." Many varieties, including caveat lector, "let the reader beware."
  • ceteris paribus - "all things being equal."
  • confer - known better as cf. Translates as "compare (with)."
  • ex nihilo - "out of nothing."
  • cum hoc ergo, propter hoc - "with this, therefore on account of this," which describes the logical fallacy of causation from correlation.
  • curriculum vitae - "course of life," a document prepared by academics relating their education, academic work, and related information - the academic résumé.
  •  pace - "with due deference to," a polite way of introducing a scholarly disagreement
  • ibidem - "in the same place," usually seen in academic works as "ibid."