AURIBUS TENEO LUPUM  “Holding a wolf by the ears”  – like “holding a tiger by the tail”, it is used to describe an unsustainable situation, and in particular one in ichi both doing nothing and doing something to resolve it are equally risk  [Latin, from Phormio (c.161BC) by Terence]

BARBA TENUS SAPIENTES  “Wise as far as his beard” – he might look intelligent but he’s actually far from it   [Latin]

BRUTUM FULMEN  “Senseless thunderbolt” – a harmless or empty threat   [Latin, by Roman scholar Pliny the Elder]

CAPRE NOCTEM  “Seize the night”   [Latin]

CASTIGAT RIDENDO MORES  “Laughing corrects morals” – the best way to change the rules is by pointing out how absurd they are    [Latin, by French poet Jean de Santeul]

CORVUS  OCULUM CORVI NON ERUIT  “A crow will not pull out the eye of another crow” – like “honour amongst thieves”, refers to complete solidarity amongst a group of likeminded people regardless of the consequences or condemnation   [Latin]

ETRE A L’OUEST  “Being west” – a daydreamer; someone who is spaced out, or not with it   [French]

EX NIHILO NIHIL FIT  “Nothing comes from nothing”  [Latin, by Roman philosopher Lucretius]

FELIX CULPA  “Happy fault” – an apparent mistake or disaster that actually ends up having surprisingly beneficial consequences   [Latin]

HAI SHI SHAN MENG  – The promise of eternal love   [Chinese]

HOMO SUM HUMANI A ME NIHIL ALIENUM PUTO  “I am a human being, so nothing human is strange to me” – nowadays used as a motto advocating respect for people and cultures that appear different from your own   [Latin, by Roman dramatist Terence]

IGNOTUM PER IGNOTIUS  “The unknown by the more unknown” – refers to an unhelpful explanation that is just as (or even more) confusing than that which it is attempting to explain   [Latin]

JE NE SAIS QUOI   “I don’t know what” – an indescribable attribute that makes an object, place, or person unique

LA DOULEUR EXQUISE  “The exquisite pain” – the particular agony of wanting someone who doesn’t want you   [French]

L’APPEL DU VIDE  “The call of the void” – the inexplicable urge to leap from high places   [French]

L’ESPRIT D’ESCALIER  “Staircase wit” – to think of a perfect retort or reply to late, having already left the room   [French]

OBSCURUM PER OBSCURIUS  “The obscure by the more obscure” – see ignotum per ignotius   [Latin]

PANEM ET CIRCENSES  “Bread and circuses” – refers to the basic needs and desires (food and entertainment) required to keep a person happy   [Latin, by Roman poet Juvenal]

RAS-LE-BOL  To be done, or fed up; a feeling of despair   [French]

TU CHANTES DU YAOURT   “You sing yoghurt” – singing made up words or sounds when you don’t know the lyrics to a song   [French]

YA’ABURNEE  “You bury me” – that to live on without a lover would be no life at all   [Arabic]

ZHI ZI ZHI SHOU, YU ZI XIE LAO – to hold hands and grow old together   [Chinese]




Mental Floss