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Today's Word



Feb 23, 2015
This week’s theme
Latin terms in English

This week’s words
modus operandi
per se
ex post
bona fide
per contra

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with Anu Garg

Angela Kubicke, a 15-year-old from Vermont, wrote to her state senator to suggest a Latin motto for the state, “Stella quarta decima fulgeat” (“May the fourteenth star shine bright”), as Vermont was the 14th state to join the United States.

Pretty harmless? Yet some citizens took Latin to mean Latin America and brought out their inner xenophobe (link). So much for “E pluribus unum” (“Out of many, one”).

Languages are a reflection of our interconnected history—they all borrow from each other. If you speak English, you speak parts of more than a hundred languages.

This week we focus on Latin. We’ll see five terms from Latin that are part of the English language.

A note about the pronunciation: The indicated pronunciation is how a term would be pronounced in English. Once we adopt a word in a language, it usually plays by its new language’s rules.

modus operandi

(MOH-duhs op-uh-RAN-dee, -dy)

noun: A particular way of doing something, especially a person’s typical mode of operation.

From Latin modus operandi, from modus (mode) + operari (to work). Earliest documented use: 1654.

“David Cameron’s characteristic modus operandi is to do anything and everything he can to buy off his critics.”
Tim Bale; The Tory Schism; New Statesman (London, UK); Sep 5-11, 2014.

See more usage examples of modus operandi in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

The theory of democratic government is not that the will of the people is always right, but rather that normal human beings of average intelligence will, if given a chance, learn the right and best course by bitter experience. -W.E.B. Du Bois, educator, civil rights activist, and writer (23 Feb 1868-1963)

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