10 Latin Phrases That Will Give You Life

Did you take Latin and ancient Greek in high school and then never used it again? Yeah, me too. Still, there are a few Latin phrases that have stuck with me.


1. Dum spiro spero

I don’t remember where I read this one, but it has become part of the way I live my life. It means “While I breathe, I hope.” To me, this translates into never losing hope and faith for a better future. Never losing drive to achieve your goals.

2. Docendo discimus

Whenever I read something interesting, the first thing I do is either make notes or tell someone about it. When I tell a friend about a topic I’ve read about, I discover whether I’ve understood it entirely. I discover whether I’m passionate enough about that topic that I can speak about it in my own words and not fail to teach someone else about it. Docendo discimus means “By teaching, we learn.”

3. Veni vidi vici

I’m sure you’ve heard of this one before: “I came, I saw, I conquered.” It originates from a letter that Julius Caesar wrote after his victory in the war against Pharnaces II of Pontus. How does this apply in my life? Whenever I set a goal, I do everything to achieve it. I set a goal, I work hard, I achieve.

4. Et cetera

I’m not sure if this is worthy of being on this list… It means “and other things.” To be honest, I just wanted to mention it so I can tell you all that pronounce this as “exetera”, it’s wrong. You’re pronouncing it wrong. It’s pronounced (phonetically) as “et setera”, “et ketera”, or as “et chetera” with the “ch” as in “Charlie”. I’m fun at dinner parties. Okay, moving on.

5. Natura nihil frustra facit

When you look outside, you see the sun shining which enables us to see when we’re outside, you see trees invisibly producing oxygen so we can continue to exist. Natura nihil frustra facit: “Nature does nothing in vain.” It means that – and this is going to sound cliché – everything happens for a reason. Everything happens of necessity. It reminds me that, even though I should enjoy life and enjoy as many fun activities as possible, I should also make sure that every task I undertake has some meaning or is somewhat significant. Which brings us to the next one…

6. Quam bene vivas refert non quam diu

“It is how well you live that matters, not how long.” Most of us are somewhat afraid of the inevitable that is part of being human: death. However, that fear is probably not associated with actually dying, but more with how you’ve lived your life. Did you accomplish all your goals and dreams before it was too late? Did you get married and had children? Did you get to travel and see the world? Death is inevitable and something you can’t control, but the choices you make during life are absolutely all up to you. It’s not about the number of years that you lived, but about the years spent truly living. Those are the ones that count. Speaking about the number of years that count… 

7. Eheu fugaces labuntur anni

“Alas, the fleeting years slip by.” This one reminds me to not waste time. Don’t waste time overthinking things. Don’t waste time stressing over things you can’t control. Don’t waste time overanalyzing every single thing that happened during your day and has already passed. Let go and live in the Now. (It’s easier said than done, but we can try.)

8. Beati pauperes spiritu

I recently read the book Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, and my favorite passage is the following: “And if there is one thing more that I must say to you, it is this: Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life has much difficulty and sadness and remains far behind yours. Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find those words.” It reminds me that no matter how happy everyone around me seems to be, every single one is battling his own war in his head. “Beati pauperes spiritu” is actually from the Bible and it means “Blessed in spirit [are] the poor.” The kindest people I’ve met in my life didn’t have many material possessions, but they had a lot of love, kindness, and compassion to give.

9. Marcet sine adversario virtus

To be honest, all I know about this one is that it belongs to Seneca and that it means “Valor becomes feeble without an opponent.” I don’t know the context of it in the essay that’s written by Seneca, but to me it means that you constantly need to challenge yourself to keep your life exciting. I can easily interpret “valor becomes feeble without an opponent” to “passion fades away without a challenge.”

10. Temet nosce

“Know thyself.” This has two meanings to me. First, even though the majority of the people perceives something as the truth, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is indeed the truth or the right thing to do. Make sure you stay true to yourself and choose what you think is the right choice. Second, make sure to be yourself no matter how others prefer to perceive you. True friends will like you for you, and not the you they prefer to see.

Want to learn more Latin? Check out these cool Latin words

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Ann Eshaw

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