Latin Phrases: The Resistance of a Dead Language

Until the 18th century, the language of cultural and scientific expression in Europe was Latin. For this reason, many Latin phrases continue to be used until today in scientific, philosophical, technical, religious, medical, and legal language.20667374-161x300

We frequently come across these phrases, and in general, if we are translating between European languages, where in most cases these expressions continue to be in use, they do not need to be translated. Thus, we rarely set to investigate the origin of these phrases. But that’s what we’re here for, and below we will analyze some of these expressions.


Ad hoc (literally “for this”): this phrase is used as an adjective in order to describe actions or means conceived for the purpose of achieving a given objective.

Ceteris paribus (from ceteris “the rest” and par “the same,” literally, “with other things the same”): abbreviated as c.p., this expression is used in scientific texts to express that all the variables in a situation are held constant, except for the one whose influence is the object of study, thus allowing for the simplification of analysis and application of abstract cases to the study of real situations.

Et cetera (literally “and the rest”): we tend to use this expression in its abbreviated form, etc., and is used to include, without naming them, the remaining elements of a list, that are easily deduced from the speech or whose mentioned in not relative or essential.

Fac simile (literally “make like”): this Latin expression, mother of the modern word (at least a few years ago) fax, makes reference to the exact copy of an original.

Ibidem and idem: although their meanings are not exactly the same, they are frequently used as equivalents. Ibidem means “in the same place” and is used in citations to refer to a page or work which has been cited immediately before. Idem, on the other hand, means “the same, in the same way, equally” and is used to refer to the author that was cited immediately before. A subtle difference, but a difference nevertheless.

Mutatis mutandis (literally “changing what needs to be changed”): this phrase is used to express that something, a text, a procedure, a situation, can easily be applied to another text, procedure, or situation by making the necessary changes.

Nihil obstat (literally “nothing hinders”): it is a concept used by the Catholic Church to express approval of a request, for example, of a publication of a document or the creation of a religious order.

Thus, we could continue ad nauseam explaining the huge amount of Latin expressions that remain in not one, but rather in almost all European languages, but unfortunately everything comes to an end.


For the Spanish version of this blog, click here.