English and 4 Common Latin Idioms
Language traps for learners and native speakers alike
Language learners and native speakers alike face the common challenge of understanding English idioms. It is no wonder since many of them come from French and Latin, one of which is no longer a living language. In this article, we will explore four English idioms coming from Latin. Continue reading to enrich your vocabulary, and understanding of the English language.
1) Quid Pro Quo
‘Quid pro quo’ is a phrase that has confounded me since childhood. On television, from parents to peers I never quite understood what the words meant. Illuminating the meaning, the Merriam Webster Dictionary gives the definition as:
1) something given or received for something else
2) a deal arranging a quid pro quo
To further clear up the matter, the Merriam Webster Dictionary gives the ‘essential meaning’ as:
‘something that is given to you or done for you in return for something you have given to or done for someone else; If he helps us, he’ll expect a quid pro quo. [=he’ll expect us to do something for him]’
Discussing politics, I can remember my dad using the phrase to describe some aspects of a scandal. Now I understand better his intention: to describe the common reciprocal relationship of government and business.
2) Et Cetera
‘Etc.’ feels to me as punctuation for unimaginative lists. Found in essays, emails, texts, etc. This abbreviation finds itself in many registers of communication. Casually, I would define ‘et cetera’ to mean ‘and more of the same like the prior.’ The Collins Dictionary gives the following definitions:
1) and the rest; and others; and so forth: used at the end of a list to indicate that other items of the same class or type should be considered or included
2) or the like; or something else similar
Furthermore, the dictionary translates this Latin phrase to ‘and’ [et] + ‘the other (things)’ [cetera]. While I did learn the definition of this Latin phrase through contextual clues over time, understanding the roots gives a historical grounding to this unique phrase.
3) Ad Hominem
Ad hominem: another phrase thrown around which few people truly understand the meaning of. Per the below definition by the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the idea is that it describes an action taken to denounce the opponent’s character rather than counter their argument.
1) appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect an ad hominem argument
2) marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made made an ad hominem personal attack on his rival
Here are some examples from the philosophy department of Texas State University to further illustrate the definition:
- Of course Marx’ theories about the ideal society are bunk. The guy spent all his time in the library.
- We cannot approve of this recycling idea. It was thought of by a bunch of hippie communist weirdos.
- I was assigned a personal trainer at the Rec, and he gave me a new workout program. But I don’t have any confidence in his expertise, since he has obvious trouble controlling his own appetite.
It isn’t always clear when to use this phrase, so understanding the definition is key to knowing when your argumentative opponent employs this logical fallacy.
4) Ad Hoc
It was only after entering the working world that I was faced with the immediacy of tasks deemed ‘ad hoc’. I quickly learned that this meant tasks that were outside of the normal work funnel. Now, let’s verify by comparing my personal anecdote to (again) the Merriam Webster Dictionary:
1) (adverb) for the particular end or case at hand without consideration of wider application The decisions were made ad hoc.
a) concerned with a particular end or purpose an ad hoc investigating committee
b) formed or used for specific or immediate problems or needs ad hoc solutions
Synonyms: impromptu, improvisational, improvised, off-the-cuff,unplanned
Now we know the proper term for requests from pesky co-workers looking for ‘favours’.
Latin pervades the English language in all sorts of ways, and this is just one of them. I hope this article has helped illuminate this interesting part of our unique language.
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