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.’

On terra firma

What does it mean?Are you coming

Terra firma means ‘dry land.’


Terra firma is a New Latin term literally meaning ‘solid earth.’ It’s first recorded use in the English language was c. 1595-1605.

Improper Use

Terra firma is not used to mean Earth in general, as opposed to space; just dry land, that is, the solid part of the earth.

Proper Use

Compared to other New Latin terms, the use of terra firma is considerably rare, although it is recognisable to many people. Examples of use in a sentence include:

             ‘Bob couldn’t wait to get his feet back on terra firma when his cruise had finished.’
             ‘The sailors returned to terra firma to meet their families after months out in the sea.’

“Ipso facto, I’m your boss…”

What does it mean?653047

Ipso facto is a New Latin term meaning ‘by the nature of the deed’ or ‘by the fact itself.’ It refers to something, for example a penalty, that is a direct consequence brought about by an action or offence. It is not commonly used in everyday speech, and is commonly thought of as ‘jargon’ in law, technology and science.


Ipso facto literally means ‘by that very fact.’ Sources conflict as to its first recorded use in the English language, but sources most commonly point to the mid-16th century. But it has appeared in famous literary works such as Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus.

Improper Use

Ipso facto is sometimes misused, especially in the ‘blogosphere,’ in the place of ‘in fact’; this is understandable, but erroneous.

Proper Use

The term should only be used to describe something that is a direct result of a fact or action. Examples of use in a sentence include:

            ‘Bob turned up to band practise without his guitar, and ipso facto was kicked out.’
‘She talked about herself all the time. Ipso facto, no one liked speaking with her.’

Despite the usage above which were written for the purpose of example only, please keep in mind that ipso facto is still relatively uncommon in informal use.

In Toto… I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore

What does it mean?643040

The meaning of in toto is ‘totally’ or ‘as a whole.’ It is synonymous with ‘altogether.’


In toto comes from the Latin term ‘totus,’ meaning total.  The term in toto translates literally to ‘in total’ or ‘in entirety.’ Sources conflict as to its first recorded use in English; some claim it was in the 1600s, whilst others state it came into use in the 18th century.

Improper Use

In toto is sometimes erroneously written as en toto. Although ‘en’ does mean ‘in,’ spelling it this way isn’t considered acceptable in modern use.

Proper Use

In toto is generally used in a legal context, and hasn’t yet really found its way into everyday conversation. It is occasionally used outside of the legal profession, mostly in academic works or newspaper articles. Examples of use in a sentence include:

                        ‘Bob’s case was dismissed in toto.’
                        ‘The flood destroyed everything in the basement in toto.’

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.


What does it mean?592039

‘Ibidem’ means ‘in the same place.’ It is used in footnotes to show that information taken from the source cited is the same as the preceding one. It is commonly abbreviated to just ‘ibid.’


‘Ibidem’ is made up of two Latin words. ‘Ibi’ means ‘in that place’ and ‘idem’ means ‘the same.’ It is believed to have first been used in the English language in the late 17th century.

Improper Use

‘Ibid’ is not to be confused with its ‘cousin’ ‘op cit.’ It is only to be used when the preceding footnote cites the same source as the current. Rather than type out that lengthy, boring title, complete with date of publication and publisher, all over again, a simple ‘ibid’ will save you plenty of time.

Proper Use

‘Ibidem’ is usually abbreviated to simply ‘ibid.’ The full-stop is important to highlight the abbreviation. Examples of use are as follows:

“E.B. White – Charlotte’s Web, New York:Harper and Brothers, 1952, p.48
ibid, p.50″

“Vladimir Nabokov – Lolita, London:Penguin Classics, 2000, p.192
ibid, p.256″

Et cetera, et cetera…

What does it mean?730032

‘Et cetera’ means ‘and so on.’ It is used to end a list that would have, in full, included many things similar to what was already mentioned.


‘Et cetera’ is a Latin term which translates literally in English to ‘and the rest.’ It is believed to have originated in English usage in the early 15th century. It is worth noting that, although it is now abbreviated to ‘etc,’ before the twentieth century it was usually written as ‘&c.’

Improper Use

It is incorrect, but common, to use ‘et cetera’ (usually in the form of ‘etc’) simply to abruptly end a list that may otherwise be very long, or to imply that more examples could be given but the writer doesn’t actually know them! This usage of ‘et cetera’ is actually incorrect. When using Latin in modern English, it’s meaning must always be known and considered so we can be sure we are using it correctly. When it is spoken aloud it is commonly mispronounced ‘ek-setera.’

Proper Use

‘Et cetera’ should be abbreviated as ‘etc’ and only used to end a list of items or people who are very similar to the ones specified. Examples of usage in a sentence include:

‘Bob’s Restaurant sells fast food meals, hot dogs, burgers, fries etc.’
‘For dessert there are all the expected flavours of ice cream, vanilla, chocolate, etc.’

Deus ex machina…

What does it mean?Woman teaching young girl one-to-one

‘Deus ex machina’ is commonly known as a plot device in creative writing where an apparently impossible situation is suddenly resolved with an unexpected and often far-fetched solution. It’s usage tends to be looked down upon by most writers.


The etymology of this phrase is an interesting one. ‘Deus ex machina’ is a New Latin phrase, and translates to English as ‘a god from a device,’ but is actually borrowed from the Greek language’s ‘god from a machine.’ This originates from Greek theatre, where Greek Gods were suspended over the stage during performances. They were usually written into plays to resolve the plot; hence why we use the term for such a literary device now.

Roman lyric poet Horace was famously known to advise other poets to never use this device in his famous discourse on poetics, Ars Poetica (circa 18 BC.)

Improper Use

Some writers will argue that using ‘deus ex machina’ at all is entirely improper. Writers consider it lazy, cliché or dated; but some writers use it on purpose, either to fit within a certain genre or style (i.e. superhero stories) or as parody.

Proper Use

‘Deus ex machina’ rarely makes it’s way into everyday speech or writing, but is occasionally used. Examples of use in a sentence include:

‘It’s almost if they expect ‘deus ex machina’ to save them from their self-inflicted mess.’
‘Bob used deus ex machina so his characters could escape their sticky situation.’

i.e., ‘id est…’

What does it mean?Doubt

The term ‘id est’ may be unfamiliar to some when written this way. In fact, we see ‘id est’ written frequently as ‘i.e.’ It is usually used to indicate an explanation of something.


‘Id est’ comes from the Latin, meaning is ‘that is.’ The first use of it in spoken or written English is unknown.

Improper Use

‘I.e.’ is frequently confused with ‘e.g.’ This is incorrect; e.g. stands for ‘exempli gratia,’ which literally means ‘for example.’ ‘I.e.’ doesn’t provide an example, but a meaning. The two are frequently mixed up in written English as they are presumed by many to be synonymous.
Aside from this, it has become hard to determine what is proper and improper with ‘i.e.’ as there are a variety of ways in which it is used. In British English, for example, it is standard to place a comma afterwards, whereas American English goes without. It is rare to see the term used entirely incorrectly, as it’s such a common figure of the written and spoken word. It used to be deemed incorrect to put a colon after i.e. – ie: like this – but this is now widely accepted, as is italicising the term.

Proper Use

‘Id est’ is frequently, if not then always, abbreviated to ‘i.e.’ Examples of use in a sentence:

‘I use the browser IE, i.e. Internet Explorer.’ (I’ll get my coat…)
‘Bob’s pets, i.e. his cats, need a bath – they stink.’