Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Latin Phrases

If Latin words and phrases have always seemed like Greek, then let today’s learnalittle post be an addendum (something added or to be added) to your personal education.

For starters, let’s consider the case of id est (that is; abbreviated i.e.). The abbreviation i.e. is used to give clarification about the statement in casu (meaning: in this case), i.e. it explains an idea in another way to make it more clear. This contrasts with exempli gratia (meaning: for example), which is used to provide specific examples of a category, e.g. primary colors, odd numbers, etc. (et ceteraand the rest; used to imply or replace additional items in a list). Ergo (therefore), i.e. is used to introduce a clarification, while e.g. introduces a specific example. Interchangeable use of these two phrases is somewhat status quo (the current state of things; literally the state in which), but is often incorrect.

Assuming I didn’t lose you attention circa (about, used to approximate when something happened) a paragraph ago, let’s consider another commonly confused pair of Latin phrases. As an example, a person might be the de facto (meaning: actual, despite official title) leader of a group if that group has an official leader who’s not fulfilling his duties. They might also be the ad hoc (meaning: for a specific purpose) leader of the group if the group is trying to build a sweet fort and they happen to know the most about building sweet forts. In this case, the ad hoc leader is, ipso facto (meaning: as a direct result of this), the de facto leader; he’s both leading for a specific purpose and the actual, acting leader of the group. Being ad hoc per se (meaning: in and of itself) doesn’t necessarily mean being de facto; one might use a paper clip as an ad hoc lock pick, but that doesn’t make the paperclip a de facto lock pick – it still really is a paperclip.

Although it might be a priori (from before, meaning: familiar or known) knowledge for some of you, I have one final clarification. The preposition semi- means half or (less literally) part something. Conversely, the preposition quasi- means as if, or resembling something closely without actually being that thing. Prima facie (meaning: at first glance), this might seem like a small distinction, but the two prepositions mean quite different things.

Now that we’ve covered Latin phrases ad nausem (to the point of nausea), hopefully they seem a little less confusing. But don’t let this knowledge create a pompous, Latin-spouting alter ego (other self). Using Latin phrases may make you seem smart, but bona fide (meaning: genuine) good writing states things clearly and in way that every reader can understand. I guess the moral of today’s post is good ideas speak for themselves – and usually in just one language.

Source: 1, 2