Latin Tattoos: Sayings, Quotes and Phrases

By | December 18, 2013

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Latin tattoos never seem to go out of fashion, perhaps due to the added mystique that a Latin phrase possesses. After all, you’re going to want people to notice your new tattoo, and esto quod es is far more likely to draw inquisitive comments than its English counterpart…

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Read on for some choice Latin sayings and further advice for selecting the perfect permanent Latin tattoo.

Inspirational Latin Sayings for Tattoos

Here are a few options for inspirational Latin tattoos, phrases that will give you a fresh dose of motivation every time you see them:

  • ad meliora – towards better things. Also ad meliora vertamur (let us turn to better things) and semper ad meliora (always towards better things).
  • dum vita est, spes est – while there is life, there is hope.
  • esto quod es – be what you are.
  • in somnis veritas – in dreams there is truth.
  • post nubila phoebus – after the clouds, the sun.

Strong Latin Phrases for Tattoos

You will find plenty of options to choose from if you are looking for a strong Latin tattoo phrase. However, you need to be careful as some of the more famous Latin quotes and phrases are associated with various government and military institutions.

For example, in omnia paratus (“ready for anything”) is the motto of the US Army’s 18th Infantry Regiment, making it a common tattoo among the regiment’s former and current members. Always check what associations a Latin phrase has before getting the ink done, especially if you want to avoid military-related questions (and perhaps disputes).

  • ad victoriam – to victory. Battle cry of the Roman army, often translated as “for victory”.
  • alea iacta est – the die has been cast. Attributed to Julius Caesar as he crossed the Rubicon with his army, the phrase signifies crossing the point of no return (the dice have been rolled; there is now no going back).
  • aut viam inveniam aut faciam (or aut inveniam viam aut faciam) – I shall either find a way, or make one. Generally attributed to Hannibal before he crossed the Alps with his army (and elephants).
  • cede nullis – yield to no one.
  • fac fortia et patere – do brave deeds and endure.
  • facta, non verba – deeds, not words.
  • morior invictus – death before defeat.

Love Phrases for Latin Tattoos

It may sound cynical, but getting your lover’s name permanently tattooed across your body is a risky business. As Ovid once said, “militiae species amor est” (“love is a kind of warfare”). Things might not always turn out quite how you imagined, so choosing a romantic Latin phrase tattoo without including any names is a safer long-term option.

The following Latin love phrases can stand alone in honor of your loved ones, or you can include them as part of a name design (if you’re feeling confident).

  • amor et honor – love and honor.
  • eis quos amo – for those that I love.
  • nunc scio quid sit amor – now I know what love is. Written by Virgil in his Eclogues, a work of classical Roman poetry.
  • numquam periit amor – love never dies.
  • omnia vincit amor (or amor vincit omnia) – love conquers all things. Also by Virgil.
  • si vis amari ama – if you want to be loved, love. Attributed to Seneca, a Roman philosopher.

Latin Tattoos: About the Carpes

Carpe diem is possibly the most famous Latin phrase in existence, thanks mainly to Dead Poets Society. In the movie, John Keating, an English professor played by Robin Williams, inspires his students with the following line: “Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary”. Carpe diem, “seize the day”, has since become a classic movie quote.

Its popularity, however, has made it a bit of a cliché and a risky choice for a Latin tattoo. Colin Farrell had carpe diem tattooed on his forearm, but tagged on “…with my girl” below it. Unfortunately, Farrell had the latter part replaced with a cross when he and “his girl” were divorced.

For an alternative carpe, consider one of the following:

  • carpe noctem – seize the night. A perfect Latin tattoo for vampires, but also a good choice for people who spend their nights partying in bars and nightclubs.
  • carpe vinum – seize the wine. No further explanation needed…

Latin Tattoos: Sayings, Sources and Avoiding Future Tattoo Removal

The Latin sayings above have been checked for accuracy using a number of online and offline sources. These sources include Latin Everywhere, Everyday by Elizabeth Heimbach (Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2004), The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations by Jon R. Stone (Routledge, 2005) and the Latinr website.

If you want to get a Latin tattoo, check the spelling with as many sources as possible before getting the tattoo done. Do not rely on tattoo artists to research the Latin phrase, no matter how well respected they may be. Also, don’t put all your faith in the internet! Your local library is a safer option; better still, track down a Latin professor. Getting everything right before you get your tattoo done will help you avoid expensive tattoo removal in the future.

You also need to bear in mind that some phrases can be written in different ways (omnia vincit amor or amor vincit omnia). The meaning may not change, but your Latin tattoo design options suddenly open up when you can write your chosen phrase in various ways.

If you have any favorite sayings for Latin tattoos, feel free to add them in the comments section below.

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