Talking about Latin English translation may seem a bit off-message on
this German translation website – but believe me, it’s not!
If you read the quality German press (a great way to improve your translation skills!) you will probably notice that Latin words and phrases are fairly commonly used. I suspect this reflects the fact that, in contrast to most of the Anglo-Saxon world, Latin is still widely taught in schools in German-speaking countries.
I almost fell off my chair in surprise recently when a friend at a dinner party (very sweet but not particularly noted for her linguistic prowess) suddenly threw the Latin term Advocatus diaboli (Devil’s advocate) into a sentence. No one flinched. I’ve never had that happen in England!
taking my German translation exams, I do remember asking my tutor what
to do about translating Latin phrases, even when translating for “an
educated audience” – translate into English, or leave them, in italics?
He suggested it would probably be advisable to translate the Latin into
English for all but the most common Latin phrases, to ensure that they
would be understood. Sad. But there you go.
So the following is a Latin to English translation table of some of the most common Latin phrases I’ve picked up from reading quality German newspapers such as Die Zeit, or the FAZ.
You’ll immediately see that some terms are so familiar that it is easy to forget they aren’t actually English (per capita, per se). My list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it will prove useful when these terms crop up in a German translation or two!
|A priori||From that which comes before|
|a.m. ante meridiem||Before midday|
|AD (Anno domini)||In the year of our Lord|
|Ad acta||To the archives, i.e. consider the matter as closed|
|Ad hoc||Improvised – made up for a particular purpose|
|Ad infinitum||To infinity|
|Ad nauseum||To the point of making one sick|
|Alea iacta est||The die is cast|
|Antebellum||Before the war|
|Bona fide||In good faith|
|Carpe diem||Seize the day|
|Casus belli||A reason for war|
|Caveat emptor||Let the buyer beware|
|Corpus delicti||The body of a crime|
|Cui bono?||For whose benefit?|
|Cum laude||With praise|
|De facto||In reality/of the fact|
|De iure||According to law|
|Deus ex machina||"A God out of a machine"
A contrived or artifical solution
|Divide et impera||Divide and rule / divide and conquer|
|Errare humanum est||To err is human|
|Et cetera (etc.)||And the rest|
|Ex ante||before the event, beforehand|
|Ex cathedra||"from the chair" i.e. with authority|
|Ex post facto||after the event, retrospectively|
|Fecit (fec.)||Made by|
|Id est (i.e.)||That is to say|
|In absentia||"In the absence"|
|In camera||"In the chamber", i.e. in secret|
|In loco parentis||In the place of a parent|
|In situ||In position|
|Inter alia||Among other things|
|Ipso facto||By that very fact|
|Mea culpa||My fault|
|Modus operandi (M.O.)||Mode of operation|
|Mutatis mutandis||The necessary changes having been
|Nolens volens||Whether one likes it or not|
|Nomen ist omen||The name is a sign / true to its name|
|Non sequitur||It does not follow|
|Nulli secundus||Second to none|
|Ora et labora||Pray and work|
|Panem et circenses||Bread and circuses. Food and games
to keep the people happy
|p.m. (post meridiem)||After midday|
|Per annum (p.a.)||Annually|
|Per centum||Per hundred|
|Per diem||Per day (daily allowance)|
|Per se||By itself/in itself|
|Postscriptum (PS)||"After writing"|
|Prima facie||At first sight, on the face of it|
|Primus inter pares||First among equals|
|Pro bono (publica)||For the public good (work undertaken free of charge)|
|Pro forma||As a matter of formality|
|Pro rata||In proportion to the value|
|Quod erat demonstrandum (QED)||"That which was to have been demonstrated"
i.e. proof is complete
|Quid pro quo||Something for something (an equal exchange)|
|Sine nobilitas||Without nobility (SNOB)|
|Sotto voce||In a soft voice|
|Status quo||The current state of being|
|Tabula rasa||A clean slate|
|Tempus fugit||Time flees|
|Verba volant,scripta manent||Spoken words fly away, written words remain|
|Vice versa||In reverse order|
|Vox populi||The voice of the people|
For a more extensive list of Latin phrases, I recommend this online Latin English translation dictionary, especially if you need to translate gems such as: Heu! Tintinnuntius meus sonat! (Darn! There goes my beeper!) or Me transmitte sursum, caledoni! (Beam me up, Scotty!).
And, as a last comment on Latin English translation, a quote from the Roman poet Horace. I find the most appropriate translation for this quote is this one by André Lefevere:
Nec verbum verbo curabis reddere fidus, interpres
"Do not worry about rendering word for word, faithful interpreter, but translate sense for sense".
German Translation Tips & Resources
Articles in the dictionary series: