For a “dead” language, Latin still has a significant impact on the way we speak in modern times. Here are 12 words you probably use regularly, and their intriguing ancient Latin roots.
The cosmos have fascinated for centuries, as this word proves. Culled from the Latin word desiderat, the two parts stem from de, meaning down, and sidus or sider, meaning star. Our early ancestors must have had a keen wish or feeling when staring up at the sky.
Testify is inspired by the Latin word testis, a noun to describe a witness. But why that particular word? Because witnesses were known to swear by their, ahem, nether regions, or testiculus – their honor and legacy at stake – to do right in a court of law.
We can all agree there’s a big difference between liking something and being passionate about it. If you asked a Latin speaker, they’d tell you that passion equals pain. The root word pati meant suffer, which makes the modern-day phrase “suffer for my art” a lot more logical when speaking of creative passions.
This word is typically attributed to Old French, but its roots are in the Latin word mortuus, meaning dead. By the time the French adapted it, mort was shorthand for dead. Meanwhile, gage is an Old French word for pledge. In a slightly macabre twist then, a loan for your home purchase basically means a “for life” kind of deal.
Candid comes from the Latin word candidus, meaning white. Politicians appearing in public wore pristine white robes (Do you have any idea how challenging laundry was back then?) to demonstrate the purity of their intent and messaging. Similarly, candidatus, meaning white robed, has evolved into candidate.
On a similar symbolic note, genuine stems from the Latin word genu, for knee. Apparently Roman fathers would acknowledge paternity by placing a newborn on their knee, essentially providing assertion they were linked. This declarative word continued to reflect anything natural or proper, with its broader definition of authentic.
While we might apply this word, meaning hostile and aggressive, to a misbehaving toddler or fussy customer today, the Latin origin is much stronger in tone. It stems from the Latin bellum, meaning war.
We may strive for luxury today, but historically the term had a slightly more disdainful tone. The Latin word luxus was synonymous with excess, which isn’t entirely off base with the tongue-in-cheek slang term of describing someone or something as extra.
Speaking of luxury, today’s monarchy owes the name of their homes to Palatium, one of the Roman seven hills, specifically the one where the emperor lived. It’s one of the few examples of a proper name becoming synonymous with a modern-day common noun.
Anything worthy of note or relevant may be labelled as salient. It comes from the Latin saliens or salientem, both of which refer to things that leap or spring.
There’s a clear difference between sadness and grief. The latter relates to the Latin gravare, meaning to make heavy, and gravis, meaning weighty. Anyone who has suffered from grief can certainly relate to these classic ties.
Today, we are constantly bombarded by advertising. Did you know that advertise has Latin roots, though? The word advertere means to turn towards, which today’s attention-grabbing ads certainly make us do.