Interesting Latin Phrases

last update: 13 June 2020

TV quiz shows, etc. are full of questions about the meaning of Latin words and phrases, and in particular those that have become embedded in the English language. In some cases understanding the Latin or Greek origin of a word can help find the answer.

So there are Latin (and Greek)
roots, stems, prefixes, suffixes and phrases that can be found in English. This webpage will try to collect the most frequently used, i.e. the ones we should know and not some rare scientific or medical term of Latin origin.

A simple Latin
root in English might be voc, as in vocal or convocation.
stem is just a root often with a prefix or suffix to make it a fully understandable word, e.g. both tie and untie are stems, but voc above is not a full word.
A simple
prefix in English might be ante-, as in anti-inflammatory.
A simple
suffix in English might be -wise, as in otherwise.
Words can have both a
prefix and a suffix such as untouchable, where un- is the prefix and -able is the suffix with touch as the root.
A simple Latin
phrase used in English might be anno Domini.

A word of warning, there are a lot of lists of Latin roots on the Web, mistakenly include Greek root words, or just throw in plain prefixes or suffixes as well. Yet dictionaries are quite clear in differentiating between words of Latin and Greek origin (L./Lat. and Gr., and eventually Gr.-L.), and identifying prefixes (pref.) and suffixes (suff.).

When constructing these lists I was amazed at just how many words in English originate from Greek or Latin, some reports suggest that anything between ⅓ and ½ of all English words come from Greek or Latin.

Wikipedia has a
list of Greek and Latin roots in English. Let's start with just some of the more important ones we encounter everyday:-
ab- off/away/from - abstract, abstain, abrasion
acer-, acri
- sharp/pungent/sour - acrid, exacerbate
acr- height/summit/tip - acrobat, acronym, acropolis (acr- is a Greek root)
acu-, acut- sharp/pointed - acupuncture, acumen, acute
aer- air/atmosphere - aerobic, aeronautics, aeroplane, aerosol (aer- is a Greek root)
aev-, ev- age - eon, eternal, longevity, medieval, primeval
ag-, ig-, act- do/go/move - act, action, agenda, agent, agile, mitigate, navigate
agri-, egir- field - agriculture (agronomy comes the Greek root agr- also meaning field)
alg- pain - analgesic, nostalgia (alg- is a Greek root)
ali-, alter- other - alias, alibi, alien, alter, altruism
alph- a - alphabet
am-, amic- friend - amiable, amity, enemy
ambi- both/on both sides - ambidexterity, ambient, ambition, ambivalent, amputation
ambul- walk - ambulance, preamble
andr- male/masculine - android, philander (andr- is a Greek root and includes Andrew and Alexander)
anim- breath/life/spirit - animal, animation, anime
ann-, -enn- year - anniversary, annual, perennial
ant-, anti- against - antagonist, antibiotic, antidote, antipodes (ant-, anti- are Greek roots)
ante-, anti- before/old - antediluvian, anticipate, antique, antiquity
aper- open - apéritif, aperture, overt
aqu- water - aquarium, aquamarine, aquarelle (the equivalent Greek root word is hydro-)
arch- ruler - anarchist, archangel, architect, monarch (arch- is a Greek roots)
arist- excellence - aristocracy
art- art/skill - artefact, artificial, artisan
aster-, astr-
star - asterisk, astrology, astronaut (astro- is a Greek root)
athi- prize - athlete, decathlon (athi- is a Greek root)
aud- hear/listen/sound - audience, audio, audition, audible, audit
aut-, auto- self/independently - autograph, automobile, autonomy, automatic (aut-, auto- are Greek roots)
avi-, au- bird - avian, aviation, auspicious

ba- is a Greek root producing English words such as acrobat, base, basic, basis, diabetic
bac- rod-shaped - bacteria
, bel- throw - is another Greek root in the English words anabolic, ball, ballistic, devil, emblematic, metabolic, problem, symbol
bar- weight/pressure - baritone, barometer, barycentric, isobar
ben- good/well - benefit, benevolent, benign, benefactor
bi-, bin-, bis- two - bicycle, biennial, bifocal, bigamy, binary, binoculars
bib- drink - beer, beverage, imbibe
bibl- book - bible, bibliographic, bibliophile (bibl- is a Greek root)
bio-, bi- life - abiogenesis, biography, biology, symbiosis, biome, bionic (bio- and bi- are Greek roots)
brev- brief/short - abbreviate, brevity, brief

cad-, cas- fall - accident, cadaver, case, casual, cheat, coincidence, decay, deciduous, incident
caed-, -cis- cut/kill - cement, chisel, concise, decide, excise, homicide, incise, precise, scissors
camer- vault - chamber, camera, comrade
can-, cant- sing - accent, canto, chanson, chant, charm, enchant, incantation
cand-, cend- glowing/iridescent - candle, cantor, incendiary, incense
cap-, capt- hold/take - captive, caption, capture, conception, intercept
capit- head - achieve, biceps, caddie, cadet, captain, chef, chief, recap
cardi- heart - cardiac, cardiology
cardin- flesh - carnage, carnal, carnivore, reincarnation
cent- hundred - centurion, centennial, percent
centr- center - centre, centaur, centroid, eccentric, epicentre (centr- is a Greek root)
centri- center - central, center, concentrante, concentric, centrifugal
ceram- clay - ceramic
chro- colour - achromatic, chrome, monochrome, polychromatic (chro- is a Greek root)
chron- time - synchronous, chronic, chronology (chron- is a Greek root)
civ- citizen - civic, civilian, civilisation
clar- clear - clarity, clear, declaration
clin- bed - clinic
col-, cult- cultivate/till/inhabit - agriculture, colony, cult, cultivate, culture, incult
contra- against - contraband, contraception, contradict, contrast
cor-, cord- heart - accord, concord, cordial, courage, discord, encourage, record
coron- crown - corona, coroner, coronet, crown
cosm- universe - cosmic, cosmology, cosmopolitan, microcosm (cosm- is a Greek root)
cost- rib - accost, coast, coastal
-cracy rule/government/authority - aristocracy, autocracy, democracy, plutocracy (
-cracy is a Greek root)
crea- make - creation, creative, creature, recreation
cred- trust/believe - accreditation, credence, credentials, credit, credulous, creed
cresc- grow/rise - accrue, concrete, crescent, crew, decrease, increase, recruit
crit-, crisi- judge/separate - crisis, critic, hypocrisy (crit- and crisi- are Greek roots)
cruc- cross - cross, crucifix, cruciform, cruise, crusade
crypt- hide - crypt, cryptic, cryptography, grotto (crypt- is a Greek root)
cur- care for - accuracy, curate, cure, curiosity, incurable, manicure, pedicure, procure, secure
curr-, curs- run/course - concur, corridor, courier, course, currency, current, discourse, occur
curv- bent - cavort, curb, curve
cycl- circle - acyclic, bicycle, cycle, cyclic, cyclone (cycl- is a Greek root)

D - next

Now we have important Latin prefixes:-
ambi- - on both sides - ambiguous, ambidextrous
anti- - against/opposite - antibiotic, anticlimax (this is in fact a Greek prefix often mistaken for a Latin one)

Lots to do still

Now we have
important Latin suffixes:-

Not even started

Wikipedia has a list of Latin phrases, and below we have just some of those that we encounter everyday, often without even noticing, namely:-
Ad hoc means 'to this', or 'for this' as an improvisation intended for a specific, immediate purpose, so often means unplanned or spontaneous, as in an ad hoc committee or an ad hoc rule created to address one specific problem. The sense is that what has been done is not generalisable. In some contexts ad hoc is set against a priori meaning 'from before' as in a deduction that is based upon pure reason and, in principle, is generalisable. An ad hoc hypothesis is an hypothesis added to a theory to save it from being falsified. The suggestion of the FitzGerald-Lorentz contraction has been held up as the very essence of an 'ad hoc hypothesis' in science.

Addendum means 'thing to be added', with the plural addenda. Often mentioned in terms of an addition and/or correction to an already published scientific paper or book. However, addenda can also be added to existing agreements, legal documents and contracts. Examples often quotes are visiting rights in a divorce agreement, fine details concerning a purchase or rental agreement, customised details concerning a boiler-plate commercial contract, or the inclusions of consents and waivers. What is the difference between an amendment and an addendum? Amendments are small corrections to short parts of a legal text, whereas an addendum actually adds a full documents to an already existing document. Amendments can only be made by those who have signed the original documents, whereas addenda can also be added by lawyers. An amendment is just part of the existing document, whereas an addendum is a legally binding addition or supplement to the document. In both cases, they are used in order to avoid re-writing and having to agree again to a new document. The US has introduced some major Constitutional amendments, whereas the constitution of Taiwan includes addenda that include provisions that would automatically cease to be in force if reunification occurred. The US Constitution has to-date twenty-seven amendments that are appended as codicils, i.e. additions or supplements that explain, modify or revoke something in the original document. As an example, the US Constitution does not define who can vote, so an amendment alters the content of the original document, and includes supplementary information that improves the original. An addendum would contain additional information or explanatory notes and would be added to and made a legally binding part of the existing document, once all parties agreed. As such, the terms of an addendum added to a contract would actually supersede the terms of the original contract.
Let's take a final example. A buyer purchases a property, and adds an addendum that says that the purchase is subject to obtaining certification from a loan provider or permission from a local building authority. When signed, the addendum becomes a part of the agreed terms in the contract. Let's then assume that the loan provider provides a value appraisal that is lower than the price in the contract. Or the local building authority does not provide all the requested building permits. The buyer may wish for the seller to drop their price. If a new price is agreed, then it would appear as an amendment to the contract. An addendum clarifies and requires agreement on something that was not in the original contract, whereas an amendment just changes something that was part of the original contract.

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