12 Modern Words From A Dead Language (Latin)

2 min read

For a dead language, Latin still has a significant impact on the way we speak in modern times. Many of the words you use every day can ultimately be traced back to Latin. You don't need to become fluent in Latin, but understanding the prefixes and suffixes can give your vocabulary an immediate boost. Carpe diem, and let's learn some Latin!


The cosmos have fascinated for millennia, as this word proves. Culled from the Latin word desiderat, it can be broken into de, meaning down, and sidus or sider, meaning star. Our ancestors must have had some strong desires 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 asked to swear by their most prized possessions, or testiculus to tell the truth in a court of law.


There’s a big difference between simply 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 to suffer, which makes the modern-day phrase “suffer for my art” more understandable when speaking of creative passions.


This word is attributed to Old French, but its roots are in the Latin word mortuus, meaning dead (in French, it's mort). Gage is an Old French word for pledge. Taken literally, a loan for your home means an “until death” kind of deal. And you thought marriage was a commitment.


Candid comes from the Latin word candidus, meaning white. Roman politicians appearing in public wore pristine white robes to demonstrate the purity of their intent and messaging. Similarly, candidatus, meaning white robed, has evolved into candidate.


Instead of making an appearance on the Maury show, Roman fathers would acknowledge paternity by placing a newborn on their genu, or knee, essentially declaring they were linked. The English word evolved from the anatomical sense to a broader definition of real or 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 covet luxury today, but the Latin word luxus was synonymous with excess. The next time you're tempted to use the tongue-in-cheek slang term to describe someone or something as extra, try out luxus instead.


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 an example of a historical proper noun becoming synonymous with a modern-day common noun.


There’s a difference between sadness and grief. The latter comes from the Latin verb gravare, meaning to make heavy, and the adjective gravis, meaning weighty. Anyone who has suffered from grief can certainly relate to these classic origins.


Anything relevant or worthy of note may be labeled as salient. It comes from the Latin saliens or salientem, referring to things that leap or spring. The salient point might just pop into your head at your next meeting.

We wonder if Mad Man Don Draper knew he owed his success to Latin? It may seem like you're constantly bombarded with advertisements, but that's the point. The word advertere means to turn towards, which today’s attention-grabbing ads certainly make us do.

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