Everyday Latin 1


Two important areas where Latin survives, albeit in fragmentary form, are medicine and the law. We’ll look at medical Latin in a future lesson. Today we’ll take a quick skim through some terms you might hear in court. Some will be familiar (the word subpoena will be in the news for a while). Others may be new to you.

Let’s start with subpoena. This is a writ compelling someone to give testimony before some legal body – usually a court but also, for example, a committee of the US Congress. Subpoena is made up two Latin words, sub (under) and (poena) penalty. We’ve seen that the preposition sub can take either the accusative or the ablative. Poena here is in the ablative. A subpoena compelling the production of evidence is a subpoena duces tecum: “under penalty, you will bring with you…”

A small peculiarity of Latin is that it doesn’t say cum te or cum me for with you or with me, or with the other pronoun forms. You will become familiar with mecum, tecum, vobiscum and the rest. Anyone old enough to remember the Latin mass will remember the phrase dominus vobiscum, the Lord be with you. Which he may need to be if you’re served with a subpoena.