Latin Tattoo Ideas: Words, Phrases, Quotes, and Photos
Latin Language in Today's Popular Culture
It's no secret that Angelina Jolie is fond of tattoos; everyone is familiar with the tattoo she got in honor of her now ex-husband, Billy Bob Thornton, then later had covered up. And publicity shots of soccer great David Beckham frequently show his bare back, revealing the names of his sons tattooed in thick black ink.
But did you know that these celebrities also have Latin tattoos as well? Angelina's is on her lower stomach (next to a thick black cross that covers up a small blue dragon she got while drunk in Amsterdam) and says, "Quod me nutrit me destruit", meaning, "What nourishes me also destroys me." David Beckham's Latin phrase is on his left inner forearm, just below his wife Victoria's name which is misspelled in a Hindi script. The phrase reads, "Ut Amem Et Foveam" meaning "so that I love and cherish."
Although it is now extinct, Latin was once the universal language spoken in Europe (at least as early as the 1st century BC), and it is a language that we can all relate to, as many modern-day words are derived from it.
But today, you can still hear some Latin, even if you are not attending mass at the Vatican in Rome or in Florida with my grandmother (who still says her prayers in Latin, as she was taught to do in the 1930s), or chatting with doctors (primum non nocere, which means "first, do no harm") or lawyers (habeas corpus, an order requiring that a person be brought before a judge). In fact, many people still use Latin today without realizing it. Bona fide is Latin for "good faith," ad hoc means "for this purpose," and quid pro quo means "something for something," which is used in modern-day banter to mean "tit for tat."
Vestis virum reddit:
“The clothes make the man.”— Quintilianus
Latin Phrases That Make Great Tattoos
alis grave nil (or alis grave nihil)
nothing is heavy to those who have wings
alis volat propriis (or alis propriis ea volat)
he/she flies by his/her own wings (or she flies with/by/on her own wings)
audax at fidelis
bold but faithful
auribus teneo lupum
I hold the wolf by the ears (like holding a tiger by the tail; I am in danger but will not give up, I face danger head-on)
seize the night (as opposed to carpe diem, seize the day)
castigat ridendo mores
laughing corrects morals; one way to change the rules is by pointing out how silly they are
cogito ergo sum
I think therefore I am, or I am thinking, therefore I exist
credo quia absurdum est
I believe it because it is absurd (sometimes used mockingly)
dum vita est, spes est
while/where there is life, there is hope (or while life is, hope is)
esse quam videri (or videri quam esse)
to be, rather than seem to be (or to seem rather than be)
ex nihilo nihil fit
nothing comes from nothing
faber est quisque fortunae suae
every man is the artisan/architect of his own fortune
a happy fault, an apparent mistake or disaster that ends up with a happy ending
luceat lux vestra
let your light shine, or shine your light
luctor et emergo
I struggle and emerge (or I wrestle and I win)
non ducor duco
I am not led; I lead
qui audet adipiscitur
s/he who dares, wins (or s/he who wins, dares)
semper ad meliora
always towards better things
sic itur ad astra
thus you shall go to the stars (or thus one goes to the stars: such is the way to immortality)
veni, vidi, vici
I came, I saw, I conquered
verba volant, scripta manent
words fly away, writings remain (or spoken words fly away, written words remain)
veritas lux mea
truth is my light
vincit qui se vincit (or bis vincit qui se vincit)
he conquers who conquers himself (the motto of many educational institutions) (or he who prevails over himself is twice victorious)
vive ut vivas
live so that you may live
the voice of nothing
Designing a Latin Tattoo: The Translation
Luckily, unlike tattoos of Hebrew and Arabic words and phrases, Latin phrases are fairly easy to translate for the sake of tattooing. Wikipedia offers an extensive list of Latin phrases, many of which make for beautiful and inspirational designs.
As with any tattoo that is done in a foreign language not your own, make sure you do your homework. We've all heard the stories of people who get tattoos in other languages that look good but mean absolutely nothing, or worse—mean something they did not intend or perhaps even the opposite of what they wanted it to say.
Double-check your translation with several sources before you get it inked on your skin. Because the Latin language is extinct, you won't be able to find a native speaker. Instead, ensure your translation is correct by either using several online translators or confirming its accuracy with a Latin teacher or scholar.
Vir sapit qui pauca loquitur:
“That man is wise who talks little.”— Unknown
Photos of Latin TattoosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Alea iacta est:
“The dice has been cast.”— Caesar
Latin Tattoo Translation Mistakes
Again, don't get a tattoo that is misspelled or translates into something other than what you'd thought. Before you get inked, make sure you have the words right! Check it again and again. Know that online translation devices are just robotic and often make mistakes (turn verbs into nouns, mix words around, confuse genders, and make other inhuman errors).
You might consider posting a question on an online forum and inviting Latin scholars to help you with the phrase. If you post a comment below, you might get lucky, since Latin students and scholars sometimes chime in to help with translations there.
You should also spend some time sleuthing out the proper pronunciation because, well, it's your tattoo.
Latin Tattoo Fonts
Of course, with any written tattoo, the style of the lettering matters as much as the words themselves. Here are some suggestions for fonts you might like to use.
Fabas indulcet fames:
"Hunger sweetens the beans" or "hunger makes everything taste good."— Unknown
© 2007 becauseilive