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I don't know how much and deep actually school kids in the US get in touch with Latin. In Europe you can choose it on many high schools and the use of it common in mainstream media. For some areas of studies it seems to be a prerequisite.

In US literature, also scientific, it has to my opinion a kind of elitist touch, as it is in principal a dead language not spoken actively any more and never was natively over there. I don't see Latin phrases quite often here despite a simple per se or use of acronyms like e.g. or i.d.. Of course, worst case would be a reader not noticing that it is Latin at all and supposing a spelling or formatting mistake.

Wikipedia: List of Latin phrases

What do you do when writing a English dissertation getting corrected by mostly European professors who you want to impress with eloquence/rhetoric quality ;) , but later also read by non-Europeans or used for applying for a job in an English-speaking country? Leave out all Latin phrases and use acronyms only? How common is it in English/US bachelor/master/PhD theses?

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5 Answers 5

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Use Latin when it makes sense to use Latin, not because you want to impress, which could turn your piece into an illegible mess. Perhaps there's a specific scientific or legal phrase in Latin that you need to use because that's the accepted standard among the scientific community. I would strongly suggest researching in your particular area to see how others have written in this field. Unless you find a clear need for it from other literature, I don't recommend using Latin phrases just for the sake of it. It will likely annoy more than impress.

Remember: it is not using Latin that will make your dissertation impressive, it is clear, concise language that expresses exactly what you want to say, no more, and no less.

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Some Latin phrases or abbreviations that any academic will find acceptable are:

i.e., e.g., a priori, a posteriori, in silico, in vivo, in vitro.

but note that foreign language phrases should be in italics, whereas common foreign abbreviations such as "i.e." and "e.g." should not be in italics.

The caveat (which although Latin is also a commonly used word in English and so does not require italics), is that the phrase should be used correctly (its meaning is appropriate in context) and non-redundantly (for science writing, try to be concise; fewer words are better).

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Sadly, no one else is ever as impressed with a speaker's erudition as the speaker is himself. Orwell, in this case as in so many others, was right.

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The fifth of George Orwells Five Rules is:

Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Use of Latin (or French or German or any 'foreign phrase') can appear an affectation unless there is a strong justification.

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Personally, I think they would be more impressed with your ability to communicate your message than the use of "fancy" words. I believe you should focus on making your material as pristine as possible and not worry so much about using Latin.

To lend another aspect to your observation of American high schools not focusing much on Latin: I have two kids who are currently in high school. My son (15) probably couldn't tell you where Latin comes from, let alone recognize and words. My daughter (17) is writing a YA fantasy novel and wanted to use some Latin phrases to represent a dialog from an ancient tribe of people. She went to the Latin teacher at her high school to ask for help, and the lady was completely blown away! Apparently she only teaches Latin one period a day and has about 20 students in ahigh school with about 2000 students.

My point in adding this is that I believe it is true that your audience in the US may not have much exposure to or interest in Latin. Having said that, if your paper is targeted towards a purely scientific audience, then they may be the exception.

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