Essential Latin phrases for your next trip to southern Europe…

You never know when a little conversational Latin might come in handy. Some years ago at a lunch party I sat next to a lovely lawyer – the father of a friend of mine – whose only quirk was that halfway through a sentence he would switch from speaking English, into Latin. He would continue in Latin for several minutes before casually resuming English.

Latin not exactly being my second language, I smiled beatifically and used the downtime to chew my food.

Funny Latin phrases

Sentio aliquos togatos contra me conspirare. (I think some people in togas are plotting against me.)

What made it even more unusual was that far from this being in a romantic, vine-draped al fresco restaurant in Tuscany … or even a studious, book-lined coffee shop in Oxford or Cambridge … this was on a farm in rural Leicestershire, England.

No wonder the lawyer’s wife drank. She would be on the tipple of sweet vermouth from shortly after breakfast and by tea-time was almost catatonic. I guess her Latin wasn’t much better than mine.

To help you avoid a similar fate, here are some Latin phrases you might find useful on your travels

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Do you scramble your EGs and IEs?

I never studied Latin so I don’t know my Romulus from a hole in the ground. However whether we ignoramuses (Latin-based word) like it or not there are quite a few Latin words, derivatives and abbreviations which are still hanging around in common usage within the English language hundreds of years after the demise of the Roman Empire.

What a legacy, huh – particularly with the thousands of Latin words permeating our more cerebral vocabularies like those of horticulture and medicine. Frankly I prefer their descendants’ pasta, pizza and ice cream – easier to understand and digest.

So where’s the problem?

According to my writing goofdar which sends me a warning signal when I come across common mistakes in written correspondence, online communications, the media etc., these two idioms (another derivative of a Latin word) are frequently misused. People often use “e.g.” when they mean “i.e.” and vice versa (yet another Latin-based term.)

Although readers of your writing are likely to figure out what you really mean, if you’re writing something in which mistakes are a real no-no – like your CV/résumé, website text, business letters, business emails or anything else by which your professionalism might be judged – it’s important that you pick the correct choice.

Let’s start with EGs

E.G. means “for example” – easy to remember because the first letter is also the first letter of the word “example.” The full Latin version, for your information, comes from exempli gratia, literally translated as “for the sake of an example.”

Another easy way to remember when to use E.G. is to think of “eggs…” as in “example!”

I’d like to use a colored pencil to draw this picture, e.g. blue, or perhaps green

What you need to consider is an alternative to your first choice, e.g. a larger scheme or perhaps something simpler

You’ll love the choice we offer in styles … e.g. garish, conservative, sneaky, etc.!

Now let’s get on to IEs

I.E. means “that is…” or in the Latin version id est, which in their lingo meant “in other words.” Funny how phrases can survive the centuries and still deliver the same message, huh. I prefer to think of I.E. meaning “in other words,” largely because in the same way as for “E.G.” and “example” the initials and meaning share the same first letter.

I’d like to use a colored pencil to draw this picture, i.e. one which enhances the original black and white image.

What you need to consider is an alternative to your first choice, i.e. something that will open up your options to a larger choice or scheme…

You’ll love the choice we offer in styles … i.e. the styles available give you the opportunity to give your customers a variety of options, at no extra cost to you

Simple, when you know how!

Unscramble all your business writing:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English