Table of Contents Hide
Want to impress your friends with your erudite ways? Eager to utter completely vicious phrases that people will have to look up later? Looking for a more educated way to talk trash online? Then you, my friend, need to brush up on your Latin. The phrases below are all worth committing to memory if for no other reason than that quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur.
Vincit qui se vincit.
He conquers who conquers himself.
Used as a motto by many schools, this phrase speaks to the importance of first getting yourself under control, mastering your urges and temptations, before trying to control the outside world. Also, fun fact, it can be seen on a stained glass window at the beginning of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Carthago delenda est.
Carthage must be destroyed.
The Second Punic War, fought between 218 and 201 BC, was a rough one for Rome, as they initiated it only to get spanked in a very real way by Hannibal and his elephants. Following the war, noted hardass Cato the Elder would end his speeches with this phrase, which these days can be used to add emphasis and vehemence to an argument.
Non ducor, duco.
I am not led, I lead.
The motto of São Paulo, Brazil, this phrase is a great, albeit somewhat aggressive way to assert your dominance while also letting folks know that you’ve read a few books. It corrects anyone under the mistaken assumption that you aren’t the absolute boss and/or innovator of any given situation.
Gladiator in arena consilium capit.
The gladiator is formulating his plan in the arena.
This one comes to us from the philosopher, statesman and dramatist Seneca the Younger. It refers to the time just prior to a gladiator’s battle, when the warrior is already in the arena preparing to fight. Basically, it’s a more badass way to say “We’re already pregnant,” or, in other words: You’re too damn late.
Water of life.
Most of the phrases listed here have at least some kind of connection to war, combat, and struggle, but this one is a little different. Aqua vitae can be used to refer to any kind of liquor, whether it’s done sincerely while talking about that single barrel scotch you’ve been saving, or more ironically for a case of PBR.
Sic semper tyrannis.
Thus always to tyrants.
These days, this phrase is mostly known as what John Wilkes Booth may or may not have shouted out while assassinating President Abraham Lincoln. That association is a shame, however, as it’s a much older phrase, with a far less problematic, but equally murderous history.
Prior to its debated use by Booth, the phrase was placed on the official seal of the commonwealth of Virginia, which also featured a female warrior, representing virtue, standing upon a defeated king, representing tyranny. The phrase is all about how tyrants tend to meet brutal ends, which explains why the phrase is so closely connected with a much earlier assassination: That of Julius Caesar.
17 inspirational quotes from women making history right now
Astra inclinant, sed non obligant.
The stars incline us, they do not bind us.
I love this one because it’s about as bold a one-line refutation of fatalism as you can imagine. The phrase means that while fate — whether determined by the stars, the gods or something else entirely — might nudge us in a certain direction, we are never forced in it. Free will exists, and the decision of what to do in any circumstance is ultimately our own.
Aut cum scuto aut in scuto.
Either with shield or on shield.
This is actually a Latin version of an earlier Greek phrase. In Sparta, mothers were said to tell their war-bred children to either come back carrying their shield or on it. At first, that might not make a lot of sense, but when you acknowledge the size and weight of a Spartan shield, the tendency of deserters to leave it behind and the tradition of carrying dead soldiers back home upon their shield, the meaning becomes clear: Don’t surrender, never give up.
Igne natura renovatur integra.
Through fire, nature is reborn whole.
So this one’s a little confusing. First up, you need to know about INRI, an acronym for Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum, which means “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews,” a phrase that was said to have been inscribed on the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Later, as part of alchemical and occult studies, this Latin backronym(opens in a new tab) was created, which refers to the cleansing power of fire and the ever-repeating cycle of death and life.
Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.
If I can not bend the will of Heaven, I shall move Hell.
Originally spoken by Juno in Virgil’s Aeneid, this phrase is perhaps best-known today for appearing as a dedication in Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. But as for how to use it, it kind of works as a piece of all-purpose badassery, something to utter or growl when you’ve been stymied or prevented from achieving your goal. Give it extra punch by taking some liberties with the translation, telling people who ask that it means “If I can’t move heaven, I shall raise hell.”
Oderint dum metuant.
Let them hate so long as they fear.
I was first exposed to this phrase from its use on a t-shirt for professional wrestler Triple H, who has a long history of using different Latin phrases on his merchandise and entrance videos. This one fits Triple H perfectly, as he has a reputation for being a brutal, somewhat mercenary talent within WWE, so it’s appropriate that he would borrow a line from one of Rome’s most brutal dictators: Caligula.
UPDATE: May. 29, 2023, 11:42 a.m. AEST This post originally appeared on Geek. It was published on Mashable in Apr. 2020, and has been updated in May 2023.