Nosce te ipsum


What does it mean?

Know Thyself

The Suda, a 10th Century encyclopaedia, says that “the proverb is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are”. The aphorism, sometimes written as temet nosce, is also used as a counsel against heeding the opinions of the masses.


Nosce te ipsum or temet nosce are Latin terms which literally translate in English as ‘know you self’ and ‘yourself know’ respectively. The Suda places the maxim in the 10th Century and it recognises Thales of Miletus and Chilon of Sparta as its first sources. However, some scholars argue that it was probably an already popular proverb that was then attributed to various members of the Seven Sages of Greece, such as the two gentlemen above.

Improper use

If translated on some search engines and online translators, the word ipsum is deciphered as meaning ‘football’. To anyone with a half a brain, this is evidently incorrect. I can’t imagine any self-respecting sage wanting to put their name down in history to the phrase: “Know your football”.

Proper Use

Even in Ancient Egypt, it has been used in the Inner Temple of the Temple of Luxor where, among other proverbs, it is inscribed:
Man, know thyself … and thou shalt know the gods.

May I see your curriculum vitae?

What does it mean?file4601245870703

Curriculum vitae, usually abbreviated to just CV, is a fancy term for a resume widely used in most English-speaking countries. America is an exception; here the term is used more commonly in an academic or medical context, referring to a document that is similar to a resume but far more detailed.


Curriculum vitae is a Latin term which translates literally as ‘the course of my life.’ It first came into English use in 1902.

Improper Use

As the term is so common in the majority of the English speaking world, it is rare to see it used incorrectly; however, traditionally the term ‘vitae’ was written, as in its traditional form, using a ligature, i.e. vitæ. However, as this practice is dying out in general, this is now very rarely used.

Proper Use

A CV is usually a brief document, outlining the potential employee’s contact information, work and education history and possibly information like hobbies or awards/achievements.

Bob dropped his curriculum vitae into the bowling alley, hoping he’d get the job.
Her curriculum vitae impressed him so much that he hired her there and then.

Ad hominem

What does it mean?716008

Ad hominem is a term that is used to describe a personal attack made against a person. It is most widely used in law, usually in the context of an argument, where somebody attacks or challenges their opponent’s character rather than their case.


Ad hominem translates literally as ‘to the man.’ It is the shortened and more widely used version of the phrase argumentum ad hominem.  The feminine form is ad feminam. It is believed to have come into English use around 1600.

Improper Use

It could be argued that the shortened phrase itself, meaning only ‘to the man,’ is incorrect as its literal translation is very vague. It is clearer when written as argumentum ad hominem, which translates as ‘appeal/argument to the man.’

Proper Use

Ad hominem should only be used as a term given to a situation when one is making an argument about the character or past deeds of their opponent which is irrelevant to the case at hand, often in an attempt to disprove their viewpoint on the basis that they are not to be trusted. Examples are as follows:

Bob: Gerbils would be great to keep as pets.
Joe: How would you know? Your goldfish died because you didn’t feed it.
Everyone around: How awful. Bob should never be allowed to keep a gerbil!

Joe: Two plus two equals four.
Bob: You must be wrong. You’ve failed every maths test you’ve ever taken.
Everyone around: Well, clearly two plus two doesn’t equal four!

Latin will keep you compos mentis

What does it mean?Joules solemn under the oak

To be compos mentis is to be of sound mind. It’s basically a fancy way of saying ‘I’m/he’s/she’s sane/sober/calm.’


Compos mentis is an adjective that translates literally to ‘in command of one’s mind.’ It first came into use in the English language in the early 17th century, around 1610.

Improper Use

Not to be confused with the opposite non compos mentis, meaning ‘not of sound mind.’ Both terms are generally used in the legal or medical profession, in the former when one tries to explain their behaviour with outlandish excuses they genuinely believe, and the latter when a patient is being assessed on whether or not they can make their own decisions about the healthcare and treatment they receive.

Proper Use

Outside of a legal and medical context, compos mentis can also be used metaphorically (which is how it is used in the examples below) however like many Latin terms is rare in informal use. Examples of use in a sentence include:

After studying for the big test, Bob felt that he was no longer compos mentis.
She was so drunk at the party she could no longer be considered compos mentis.

I came home about an ho-ergo… heh heh.

What does it mean?file000762524537

Ergo can mean consequently, therefore, accordingly, or hence. It also has a combining form ergo-, usually related to work, i.e. ergonomics, however this originates from the Greek language. The two are commonly mixed up, but entirely separate.


Ergo is believed to have come from the Latin term ex rogo, which means ‘from the direction of.’ It came into English usage in the early 15th century.

Improper Use

The use of ergo alone is not to be confused with cogito, ergo sum, which is commonly used to refer to French philosopher Rene Descartes’ widely debated proposition, ‘I think, therefore I am.’

Proper Use

Ergo literally translates to ‘therefore.’ Examples of use in a sentence include:

Bob was very late, ergo in a lot of trouble.
She was tired, ergo she left the party early.

Please note that ergo is relatively uncommon in informal use, and most commonly written or spoken in a legal or scientific context. The above sentences were written for the purpose of example only.

Ante bellum

What does it mean?884064

Ante bellum means the period before a war. The accepted usage of the term, usually written as antebellum, refers to the American South before the civil war.


The term literally translates to English as ‘before the war.’ It came into English language usage in the late 19th century.

Improper Use

One might argue that using ante bellum to define any period other than the one it traditionally refers to is improper. The country music group Lady Antebellum have received criticism about their choice of name, with people calling it inappropriate and even racist.

Proper Use

Examples of use in a sentence include:

Many Antebellum Mansions in Nashville are now open to the public for use for events such as weddings.
Gone with the Wind was written about life in the antebellum south.

Persona non grata

What does it mean?625022

To declare somebody persona non grata is to state that they are ostracised or unwelcome. It usually means somebody, usually a diplomat, is forbidden by the government from entering or staying in a certain country. It can also be used in a non-diplomatic context to refer to somebody who has been shunned by a group of people for whatever reason they see fit.


‘Persona non grata’ is a Latin term, literally translating to ‘person not acceptable,’ is a Latin term which is neither part of the classical nor New Latin language. It has, however, been in use since as early as the 15th century.

Improper Use

When pluralised, persona non grata is sometimes erroneously written as personas non grata. This is incorrect; the plural version of the term should be written as personae non grata, as within Latin.

Proper Use

Persona non grata is used in mostly a formal, legal context, but informal use is not unheard of. Examples of use in a sentence include:

                 “The spies were deported as persona non grata.”
                 “Bob found himself persona non grata at the party after the incident the previous weekend.”

No Latin yesterday… mea culpa.

What does it mean?842022

Mea culpa is the admission or acknowledgement of making a personal mistake. Traditionally, it is used in the prayer The Confiteor in the Catholic Church. It is slowly making its way into contemporary everyday use.


Mea culpa is a Latin term translating literally into English as “through my own fault.” Perhaps because of its use in prayer, the term has been used in English for centuries. The first recorded use was in the late 14th century by Chaucer in Troylus, though it has likely been in use before this.

Improper Use

Some might argue that any use outside of prayer is improper, but as can be seen above, the phrase has been making its way into speech and the written word for hundreds of years. It is perhaps one of the less commonly seen Latin phrases in common or popular use, but, technically speaking, wouldn’t be incorrect or out of place in an informal context.

Proper Use

In a non-religious context, think of mea culpa as a fancy way of saying ‘my bad.’ Like most Latin phrases in English use, it is italicised. It can be used both as a noun and an interjection, although the former is more common. As a noun, it usually refers to a detailed and sincere apology. Examples of use in a sentence include:

“I forgot – mea culpa,” said Bob.
She wrote a long mea culpa on her blog to apologise to everyone she’d hurt.

The phrase can also be extended to mea maxima culpa, literally meaning ‘my most grievous fault.’

De facto

What does it mean?674018

De facto is a Latin term which has become part of the English language. It means ‘in reality,’ ‘in practice’ or ‘actually.’ In Australia and New Zealand, it is also a term for ‘common law wife.’


The literal translation of De facto from Latin to English is ‘in fact.’ It is unknown when it first came into use as an accepted part of the English language.

Standard Use

De facto can be used as an adjective, adverb and a noun, and is often used to refer to a practice which is common or accepted, but not officially recognised or legal. Examples of use in a sentence include:

              ‘Bob’s girlfriend was his de facto wife.’
              ‘She’s become a de facto politician in her local community.’

Any Subject et al.

What does it mean?758088

‘Et alia,’ arguably similar to ‘et cetera,’ means ‘and others.’ It is used to shorten a list of people or objects. ‘Et al’ is most commonly used in an academic context.


‘Et alia’ is a Latin term which literally means, as above, ‘and others.’ ‘Et alii’ is the masculine version of this term and ‘et aliae’ the feminine. For example, if your list consists of all males, technically speaking, you would be more likely to use the former, and females the latter. However, it is very rare to see this in use; the term is usually abbreviated to simply ‘et al.’ It first came into use as part of the English language in 1883.

Improper Use

‘Et al’ is not to be confused with ‘inter alia,’ a Latin term meaning ‘amongst other things.’ It is also not to be confused with ‘et cetera,’ although the terms may be construed as similar. See here for our Latin lesson on ‘et cetera.’

Proper Use

Some sources, such as MLA Guidelines, state that it is only acceptable for use when the list consists of a minimum of three people or items. ‘Et alia’ is usually written as the more common abbreviation ‘et al.’  Examples of use in a sentence are as follows.

‘Bob Bobbedo et al. state that Latin is good for you.’
‘Trent Strawberry et al. have pretty weird sounding names.’

As always, make sure you think clearly about what the term actually means in English before you use it.