The English language is filled with phrases that come directly from Latin. While many are technical terms used in courts of law, there are plenty of Latin phrases and words we commonly use in daily speech, hear in podcasts and on television, and read in articles.
The ten writing prompts listed below can help teen writers learn the background of a few everyday Latin phrases while getting writing practice. Use these prompts for informal journal entries or for full five-paragraph essays.
1. carpe diem
The Roman poet Horace first wrote the phrase carpe diem, which means seize the day. Write what these words mean to you. What is your plan to make the most of each day?
2. Et tu Brute?
In Shakespeare‘s Julius Caesar, the final words of Caesar—as he is murdered by his friend Marcus Brutus—express the pain of betrayal. They mean Even you, Brutus? Tell the story of a terrible betrayal. It can be one you experienced, one you read of, or one that you create from your own imagination.
3. ante meridiem
Usually abbreviated A.M., ante meridiem means before noon. Teens have a biological need for more sleep and especially for sleeping late in the morning. Persuade your parents that your homeschool day should begin later in the day, giving valid reasons to support your position.
4. caveat emptor
Caveat emptor means let the buyer beware. Choose something you’ve recently purchased or received as a gift and write a detailed product review. Post it on the site where you bought it or on Amazon, if you like.
5. e pluribus unum
This motto of United States of America means from many, one. Which do you think is the more important: the rights of the individual or the rights of the community? Use examples to support your view.
6. ex libris
Often used on bookplates to indicate ownership of a book, ex libris means from the library (of). What types of books are in your personal library? Why do you keep them and how have they impacted you?
7. habeas corpus
Meaning you have the body, habeas corpus is a plea filed by an imprisoned person asking the court to determine whether he is being held lawfully and with good cause. Tell the story of a time you were unjustly accused of something. Explain the misunderstanding and give evidence that you are not guilty.
8. lingua franca
Lingua franca means a common language. The five most widely spoken languages in the world are English, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, and Hindi. What language are you taking for high school credit? Explain why you chose that language instead of others.
9. mea culpa
Mea culpa’s modern equivalent would be the colloquial phrase “my bad.” It means through my own fault. Choose an offense you committed (real or imagined) and write the most heartfelt apology you can.
10. ad hominem
Ad hominem is a term used to designate an argument that attacks someone’s character instead of focusing on the issue at hand with logical reasons. Choose a public figure you disapprove of or with whom you disagree. Write two different critiques, one based on ad hominem attacks and the other based on factual, logical reasons. Which is more convincing?
High School Writing Curriculum
If you’re looking for a homeschool writing curriculum for your teens, consider our WriteShop program:
Download free sample lessons here.