Per capita—Original meaning: by the head.Now usually means “per person.” This is a term commonly used in statistics.

Example: The graph shows the average per capita income of the people in our state.

Persona non grata—Original meaning: person not acceptable. Now means an unwelcome person.

Example: After he was convicted of terrorism, he was considered persona non grata by the U.S. government.

Pro bono—short for pro bono publico. Original meaning: for the good of the public. Usually refers to free legal services offered to nonprofit organizations or those who cannot afford to pay.

Example: Susan decided to handle the church’s legal case pro bono.

Sic—Original meaning: thus. This term is often used when quoting someone who committed an error. Putting the word sic in brackets [sic] will show the reader that the error was made by the original speaker, not the writer or editor.

Example: According to one eyewitness, “I ain’t [sic]seen nothing like that in all my born days.

Status quo—Original meaning: the state in which. Now refers to the current situation or state of things.

Example:Change may be exciting, but I prefer the status quo.

Summa cum laude—Original meaning: with highest praise or honor.

Example:The valedictorian and salutatorian both graduated summa cum laude.

Terra firma—Original meaning: solid earth.

Example:The sea voyage was a great adventure, but he was glad to reach terra firma.

Vice versa—Original meaning: the other way around. Used to indicate that terms can be switched and still be true.

Example: I will help you with your chores and vice versa (meaning you will also help me with mine).

Familiar Latin Expressions

Alea iacta estor alea jacta est: “The die is cast.” This phrase is commonly ascribed to Julius Caesar. He reportedly said these words as he crossed the River Rubicon and began his civil war. It is sometimes used now to describe a crossroads in life where an important, irreversible decision is made.

Carpe diem: “Seize the day!” This phrase expresses the Epicurean or Hedonistic philosophy that we should seize the pleasures or opportunities of the day without regard for the future.

Caveat emptor: “Let the buyer beware.” This is now an established commercial principle: a buyer should explore a purchase carefully before buying, because he assumes risks at purchase.

Cogito ergo sum: “I think; therefore, I am.” This popular philosophical saying is actually a Latin translation of a statement by French philosopher Rene Descartes in 1637.

Deus ex machina: “God from a machine.” Today, this phrase usually refers to an improbable plot device used to extricate literary characters from a seemingly impossible situation.

Ex libris: “From the books.” This phrase is sometimes used before the name on a bookplate at the beginning of a volume to indicate ownership of a book. The term can also be used to refer to the bookplate itself.