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It’s all Greek to me…Latin business terms

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Latin for business

Over the past few weeks I’ve looked at different referencing styles, in particular the OSCOLA style for legal writing and law citations, and the use of various aspects of Latin. Before we leave this particular topic, this week I’ve been looking at some common legal Latin phrases that are relevant for both the law student and the wider arena of business and professional writing. So, here are ten common Latin terms, their meaning and uses:
Bona fide – translates as ‘with good faith’ and means genuine or real. For example, the document was a bona fide contract. Note that Oxford style does not italicise the words.
Caveat – means ‘let him beware’ and is usually used in the context of a warning. You may be familiar with the phrase caveat emptor in relation to the sale of goods or property, meaning buyer beware.
Compos mentis – translates as ‘possessed of mind’. How many times have you heard the phrase: ‘I don’t think he was compos mentis at the time’ suggesting that the subject was not mentally capable at the time some act was perpetrated.
De facto – means ‘in actual fact’ and is often used to describe something that is true in practice although may not be officially endorsed, for example, he was the de facto chairman of the group. Again, Oxford style does not italicise this.
Inter alia – means ‘amongst other things’ and is used to indicate that something comes from a larger list, for example: she said, inter alia, that the car was red [indicating that she said other things in addition to this comment]. The wording is not usually italicised.
Ex gratia – done as a matter of favour. This reminds me of my background in the insurance industry where an ex gratia payment was one that an insurer was not obliged to make by law (under the contract).
In situ – means in position or in its original place. For example, a car could be repaired in situ if it a tyre was changed at the side of the road, rather than being taken to the garage.
Nota bene – this is phrase meaning note well, or take note is usually abbreviated to ‘nb’.
Curriculum vitae – almost everyone is familiar with the term for a resume or job history, often abbreviated to CV. The direct translation is ‘the course of one’s life’.
Prima facie – means ‘at first sight’ and refers to the initial evidence or first impression. For example, ‘the act was a prima facie case of misconduct’ means the initial evidence indicates there has been some event due to a deliberate wrongdoing.
These are just a few examples of Latin phrases which have entered the everyday business vocabulary – in fact, many are so common that you probably would not give their ancient roots a second thought. Far from being a dead language, as many of its detractors would have you believe, Latin is in fact very much alive in everyday English communication – did you know there is even a Latin Wikipedia?

By the way, if you wondered where the English idiom ‘It’s all Greek to me’ comes from, it may be a translation of the Latin phrase ‘Graecum est; non legitur’ meaning it is Greek therefore is cannot be understood, which was used by scribes in the Middle Ages.

Greek alphabet
It’s all Greek to me…

2 Responses

  1. Beata Staszków

    Liz, a great overview of what we tend to use without even realising where all those phrases come from.