In times of great strain or moments of quiet bitterness, there is nothing to salve your wounds or prove your wit better than a well-chosen quote in a language no one has spoken for centuries. A choice and incomprehensible expression can convince your friends you’re smart and your enemies you’re arrogant (and also smart). What’s more, you don’t have to know the language, just how to pronounce it.
While obvious, Latin is also the most effective option. Not only did the Romans seem to have more wit than those dour, Aramaic-speaking Canaanites, but any reasonably well-educated English (or French, Spanish or Italian) speaker should be able to catch your drift. If you have a difficult time with phonetic memorization, pick a versatile saying like Acta est fabula, plaudite! [The play is over, applaud!]. The last words of Emperor Augustus (duh), they can be muttered sotto voce at the end of an interminable meeting as you push back your chair, or just before your front door closes behind the boring couple who insist on inviting themselves over for Sunday dinner even though they know you watch Mad Men on Sundays. The expression is also handy for moments requiring great gravitas, including tripping on the sidewalk, divorce settlements, and being forced to remedy an open fly in public. Build your own stable of favorites, or take one of ours.
Selected useful phrases in Latin:
Acta est fabula, plaudite!—The play is over, applaud!
Ad astra per aspera—To the stars through difficulty
Conlige suspectos semper habitos—Round up the usual suspects
Nemo saltat sobrius nisi forte insanit—No one dances sober unless he’s insane
Nemo malus felix—No bad man is lucky
Illegitimi non carborundum*—Don’t let the bastards get you down
*This quote is doubly impressive. Although it’s not real Latin, it was the personal motto of US General “Vinegar” Joe Stillwell in WWII, and that’s good enough for us.