Whether you’re speaking, reading, or writing in English, you can’t get very far before you stumble on a word with Latin influence. Aside from the estimated 60 percent of English words that have roots in Latin, you can’t pull out a book, pull up a YouTube video, or switch on Netflix these days without hearing some Latin phrases in your favorite movies, songs, and novels.
From Gilmore Girls to the Handmaid’s Tale to Harry Potter, Latin (or some form of it) is everywhere. Well, let’s whip out our glasses and study up on some of the most popular pop culture Latin phrases.
In omnia paratus
When Rory Gilmore heard a strange girl in a fancy ballgown utter “in omnia paratus,” as she climbed into a town car in an episode of Gilmore Girls, her journalistic spidey senses started tingling. What was this secret phrase, and what were the members of The Life and Death Brigade up to?
Well, based on the meaning of in omnia paratus, anything and everything! The term translates to “prepared for all things” including jumping from great heights only holding umbrellas …
Walt Whitman’s “oh captain, my captain” may be the first words that come to mind when someone mentions Dead Poets Society, but carpe diem can’t be far behind.
When new English teacher John Keating shows up at the conservative all-boys school Welton Academy, he turns the teenagers’ lives upside down, forcing them to think about poetry—and life—in a brand new way. His advice is to carpe diem, a Latin phrase that literally means to “seize the day.”
Why should the kids sit up and grab the day? He offers this rather gruesome explanation: “We are food for worms, lads.” Perhaps more pleasant is Keating’s other reference. He compares the term carpe diem to English Cavalier poet Robert Herrick’s use of the phrase
gather ye rosebuds while ye may, a comparison popular in many high-school poetry classes.
The English rock band Yes might be one of the most successful progressive rock bands of all time, and the 1980 hit Tempus Fugit remains a fan favorite to this day. Although the Latin term is never actually used in the lyrics, its English translation is! Tempus fugit translates to “time flies,” which songwriters worked into the line “in the north sky time flies faster than morning.”
Much of the language J.K. Rowling uses in the Harry Potter series sounds like Latin but is in fact dog Latin, a jargon imitating Latin.
However, expecto patronum, the spell uttered by Harry and his friends when they’re calling on a ghostly protector to keep them safe from the onslaught of the Dementors, is translatable into the old language. Expecto means “I await,” while patronum means “a patron.”
In Ancient Rome, a patron referred to the protector of a dependent or client, often the former master of a freedman still retaining certain rights over him. It’s not exactly a snow-white stag rushing to Harry’s rescue, but the more modern definition of a patron saint hits closer to the mark: “a saint regarded as the special guardian of a person, group, trade, country, etc.”
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Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is chock full of nonsense phrases, from the knights who say “ni” to the shrubber who arranges, designs, and sells shrubberies.
But, the monks who crop up chanting “pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem” throughout the film are speaking bona fide Latin. Commonly used during Catholic funeral masses, the phrase means “Our Lord Jesus, let them rest.”
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum
Fans of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale—and the Hulu dramatization featuring Elisabeth Moss—have turned the phrase nolite te bastardes carborundorum into a rallying cry, printing it on everything from mugs to t-shirts to political posterboards.
What’s not to love about a phrase that means “don’t let the bastards grind you down”? Well, just one thing … it’s not really Latin. Oops, we had to add it anyway though, come on.
Like its sister phrase illegitimati non carborundum, which has also seen a resurgence on posters, coffee cups, and the like, nolite te bastardes carborundorum is a nonsense phrase that sounds like Latin but has no actual roots in the dead language. The term Carborundum is actually a trademark of a brand of abrasives.