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Grad School Necessities: Latin Phrases

Sometimes, but not often, Latin phrases make their way into the English language. Many of these phrases are seldom used, often for rhetorical effect. Other phrases tend to be far more common, and are important for anyone who wants to develop a college-level vocabulary. They don’t come up too often on the GRE, but they are important to know – whether to understand something you are reading, or to spice up your own writing.

Bona fide

If something is authentic or genuine, we say that it is bona fide. The actual roots in this word are bona = good, and fide = faith, which makes sense: if we trust something is in good faith, so to speak, we can say it is genuine. Bona fide, as it applies literally, is usually used only in a legal sense. Generally speaking, bona fide is used to describe something that is, or someone who is, legitimate.

He was a bona fide professional athlete, playing for the New York Yankees back in the 1970’s.

Ad hoc

Ad hoc comes from the Latin ‘for this’ means for a specific purpose. This phrase usually modifies the word committee, as in “ad hoc committee”, or basis, as in ‘ad hoc basis’’.

The city put together an ad hoc committee to help allocate supplies to those stranded in the flood.

For him, learning GRE vocabulary was not just on an ad hoc basis – once he finished the test, he planned on augmenting his vocabulary further. 

Pro bono

No, it’s not a person who is a big fan of the lead singer of a well-known Irish rock band – pro bono means for the public good. If you are a professional, let’s say a lawyer, who does something pro bono, you do it without expecting any monetary recompense.

After years of helping those in need, the lawyer gave up doing pro bono cases, since he himself had become needy, his own finances depleted.

A priori

This is a tricky one. But let’s say you are arguing a point. If your point rests on a certain assumption that you assume to be true, then you are engaging in an a priori argument. Unsurprisingly, this word comes up often in philosophy.

“To ask how God can tolerate evil is to assume a priori that there is a God,” quipped the nihilist.

Ad infinitum

If something go on and on, without ever seeming to end, then it continues ad infinitum; or, from the Latin, ‘to infinity.’

Don’t worry – this list isn’t going to go on ad infinitum. But, all of the above are important. Though they probably won’t show up on the new GRE (though they could), these Latin phrases are constantly bandied about in college-level writing. So, you will definitely encounter some – if not all – of them.


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