How to use Latin (Part 3)

Unusual Latin terms in English Writing

Latin words and phrases in English writing – the final round

This time we look at some slightly unusual Latin terms. They might not be widely used, but you might come across them here and there. Better to know what they mean. Don’t forget to check out Part 1 and Part 2 for other Latin words and phrases.

Curriculum Vitae

Literally translates to “course of life” and is commonly abbreviated as CV. US readers may recognise this as résumé (the French term for “summary”). This, of course, refers to a document outlining or summarising qualifications, work experience, and other personal details of a job applicant.

Genius Loci

The Gothic arches and period tapestries add to the genois loci of the place.

Translates to “spirit of the place” and refers to the atmosphere of a place and also how it might influence the people there.

In Flagrante Delicto

They caught him in flagrante delicto with his secretary, if you know what I mean?

Literally translates to “in the heat of the crime” and refers to an act of wrongdoing or misconduct. Most often it is used as a euphemism for a transgression of a sexual nature.

In Loco Parentis

Translates to “in the place of a parent”. Usually a law term referring to someone who has the responsibilities of or is acting in the place of a parent.

In Medias Res

And so, we begin our tale in medias res.

Translates as “in the middle of things”. This is a very useful technique for starting a work of fiction. When you start in the middle of an exciting encounter (as opposed to giving pages of build-up or an info dump), you plunge the reader straight into the action. This gives them forward momentum to read on and figure out what all the full is about. Useful.

Magnum Opus

Charlotte finally completed her magnum opus.

Translates simply as “great work”. It is often used to refer to the greatest/best-known/major work of an artist (writer, composer, or the like).

Modus Operandi

This all fits with his MO – it must be him.

Translates to “way of working”. It refers to the way or method of proceeding with a task. You’ll often hear this term thrown around crime dramas where it is used to refer to how a murderer goes about killing her/his victims.

Non Sequitur

I’m sorry, that was a total non sequitur. Let’s get back to the matter at hand.

Translates as “it does not follow”. It refers to an illogical remark or inapplicable statement. In recent times this has become a political campaign strategy.

Pons Asinorum

Here’s an unusual one for you. Translates to “bridge of asses” – yes, you read that correctly. It refers to a test for beginners – to sort the best from the rest. It is often a problem that the slow-witted cannot solve.

Quid Pro Quo

There is some quid pro quo between the roommates over who does what.

Translates to “something in return for something else”. This one is pretty simple: it refers to a favour or doing something in return for something else.


Quod erat demonstrandum, usually abbreviated as Q.E.D., translates to “which has been demonstrated”. It is usually added to the end of a proof to show that the point has been made.

Sub rosa

Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein the Younger, oil on panel, late 16th century (1533-1534)

This is one of my favourites. The term translates as “under the rose”. It refers to something done secretly, privately, or confidentially.

The rose has been a symbol of secrecy from ancient times (some say, as far back as the ancient Egyptians). There were banquet halls with ceilings painted with roses – this acted as a reminder to guests that anything said sub vino should remain sub rosa. In medieval times, a rose hanging from a ceiling was an indication that the meeting you’re in is a secret one.

This is a great writing prompt, don’t you think?

Deus Ex Machina

Deus Ex Machina
Oedipus at Colonus (1788), by Jean-Antione-Theodore Giroust

Translates as “god out of the machine”. It specifically refers to a trope in ancient Greek plays were a deity would be lowered down by a rope and pulley mechanism and solve the conflict/problem in the plot. This term is thus used to mean a person, thing, or device that provides a contrived (forced) resolution to something (mostly a story). This is a weakness in a plot line. Don’t let a protagonist suddenly remember they had a key all along (Dan Brown, I’m looking at you) or suddenly give her/him the power to fly or something.

The Last Word

Are there any more terms you would like to learn about? Do you have your favourites? Please share in the comments.

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Sources s.v. “sub rosa”. Available at: (Accessed: 08/08/2018

Reader’s Digest. 1989. Reverse Dictionary. Berkeley Square: London

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