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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Not wrong, per se 

I think I've mentioned before how funny it is when people use words incorrectly in a professional or academic setting. This has happened to me several times in my graduate work, when people who have masters and doctoral degrees will absolutely murder the English language. Unfortunately, even though I have a little silent giggle at the time, I never think to actually document the incidents, and by the time I get home, I've long since forgotten the word that was so maligned in class.

So instead of publicly mocking my professors, I will instead try to shed some light on the proper usage of some Latin phrases. But first, a song intro...

Half a bee, philosophically,
Must ipso facto half not be.
But half the bee has got to be
Vis-a-vis its entity - do you see?

But can a bee be said to be
Or not to be and entire bee
When half the bee is not a bee
Due to some ancient injury?

Ipso facto: Often confused with de facto, which means "in fact", which itself is often misconstrued to mean "by default". This term is more precise and mean "by that very fact". A proper use of the term would be, "Anyone who employs foreign idioms in conversation without understanding them is ipso facto a moron."

Per se: This Latin phrase, literally translated "by itself", is more commonly used in the sense of "I'm trying to sound superior to you by using this vague legal jargon." It should not be used as a synonym for "exactly" or "quite" as in, "I wouldn't call her per se an idiot, but she did tell me that my hair smelled ironic."

Sine qua non: This is a terrific little phrase that literally means "without which, not" and is rightly used to define a non-negotiable term or a hill to die on. Hard to work into every day conversation, but maximum cool points awarded for successfully doing so. Double points if you don't stop to explain what it means.

Vis-à-vis: Literally, "face-to-face". This is not Latin, but French. The use of this should be limited to scenarios when you are walking through international airports and feel the urge to turn to your neighbor and say, "Ow. Bun pain." (YHTBT)

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Thank you for this informative post. Would you please provide some examples of the most currect usage of the phrase "per se"?


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