ACEP Needs a Latin Motto


What better summertime diversion than to pick a Latin phrase to be ACEP’s new motto. Let the nerdfest begin.

Alright, it’s summer and we need some totally nonsensical dalliance to while away our salad days as we await the seriousness of September. In an attempt to provide both comic relief while also discussing a subject dear to my heart, I dedicate this column to national ACEP’s need for a Latin motto.

Just like black goes with everything, Latin has been used for mottos from Antarctica to South Korea. I suggest that all ACEP nerds unite and support a resolution for the betterment of our college. If Harvard can have a Latin motto, so can we, damn it.


Why? Firstly, because “Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum sonature.” This translates to “Whatever is said in Latin sounds more profound.” Even if it’s the dumbest thing ever pronounced, it sounds important in Latin. It’s like listening to a debate between two people: one with an Oxbridge accent and the other with a Tupelo, Mississippi accent. Admit it: No matter what they’re saying, the guy with the formal English accent sounds smarter. Case closed.

Of course, not all Latin is created equal. There’s the real stuff written down by the big guys like St. Jerome and the Vulgate. Then there’s the nerd humor made up to suit our own needs – “Veni vidi visa” – “I came, I saw, I did some shopping”. For the ACEP motto, we’ll stick with the former, but the latter is awfully fun (see sidebar). The following are some old standards, and why they do or don’t make the grade.

Actio personalis monitor cum persona
“Dead men can’t sue”
Ancient? True. But lacks a certain something, including our commitment to the “res publica.” We might as well use the phrase: “Hey, sucker, make my day” as the anthem. So, we’ll dismiss this one off the top.


Docendo discimus
“We learn by teaching”
This makes it sound like the residents are at it again, sans supervision. Not a bad motto but perhaps better suited for SAEM than ACEP.

Qui tacet consentit
“Silence gives consent”
This brings up the whole question of gathering permission to do experimental protocols on dead and near-end people (momento mori). I think we can dismiss this one out of hand.

Lucri mi causa
“For the sake of financial gain”
This phrase not only gives a terrible message, but have you checked your collections lately? It’s fiction. But given enough time, I can translate: “I should have gone into dermatology or to do cataract surgery” into an acceptable Latin motto; but it would never fit on the coat of arms.

Errare humanum est
“To err is human”
No way. This just gives plaintiff’s bar a head start on us. Pass on that one.

Gloria in excelsis deo
“Glory to God on high”
Problem: When you appeal to a higher authority, the patient wonders: Does he need to pray to God just so he won’t screw up?

Lux tenebris
“Light in the darkness”
This sounds like the power has gone out again. This, however, might be an excellent motto for the State of California. They’re running out of water. They can’t even fill their turbines.

Dum spiro sperot
“While I breathe I hope”
No, this isn’t good either because it again puts too much reliance on those people who think CPR actually works. If we write this, it’ll be written into the next version of ACLS right after vasopressin and just before biphasic defibrillation.

Ad utrumque paratus
“Prepared for the worst”
Good idea; reflects what we do. But again, frightening to the general public. Should they be preparing themselves for the worst? Good question. What we should do, along with that, is have a phrase translated for the waiting room which says: “Bring a lunch.”

Dum vita est spes est
“Where there is life, there is hope”
This motto sounds nice but may violate truth in advertising laws. Calling codes is already tough enough. No reason to belabor the point.

So what are we to do? We ought to come up with something which is powerful, which is meaty. And therefore I return to the old Latin masters. Let’s do something that has punch. Remember: short, to the point. It is always good when you can remember your own motto.

Per aspera ad astra
“Through adversity to the stars”
This signifies our daily struggle through which we provide excellence of medical care. It is currently also being used by the Royal Air Force. But I checked with an old Royal Air Force man. He says it’s okay.

Saevis tranquillum in undis
“Calm in a sea of adversity”
Tough to say, but great in thought. We are for many people that safe haven when problems come about.

Pauca sed bona
“A few men, but good men”  
This phrase – often translated as the now famous “a few good men” – expresses both camaraderie and a sense of duty that we feel to the profession and our college. Please note: “pauca sed bona” has no sex, no gender reference. It is a phrase for our time.

Pro bono publico
“For the public good”
This really is a different approach. This common Roman expression refers to why we exist. It is not about us, it’s about them. Maybe we need to be reminded of this from time to time.

Respice, aspice, prospice
“We look to the past, to the present, to the future”
This is a vision statement. The fact that we look to our heritage for moral values, the present for proper practices and to the future for even better care is a nice idea.

In the end, I don’t think any Latin phrases better summarize what emergency medicine is all about than the three sempers of the Roman soldier: “semper paratus, semper idem, semper fidelis” – “always prepared, always constant, always faithful.” Here at last are the words that we need for our profession. We are prepared by virtue of our training, experience and constant relearning to properly handle most anything that presents. We are consistent in approach and manner despite the worst of circumstances. We maintain the Honor of Apollo and lastly, always faithful to the traditions of medicine: to cure occasionally, to treat mostly, to care always.

I therefore present these to the membership for discussion. Who will join me in this? I am looking for pauce sed boni – a few good men or women – to join in a resolution to the Board to adopt this as the appropriate Latin motto of for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Photo by Cliff.

What do you think? Comment with your favorite or make a suggestion below.


Dr. Henry is the founder and CEO of Medical Practice Risk Assessment, Inc.; past president of ACEP.


  1. Thomas Richardson on

    Great article Greg, I enjoyed it! I would concur with you on your best choice. While I am tempted to still put Stercus occidit over the triage desk, “semper paratus, semper idem, semper fidelis” is a great choice (and I would put Pro bono publica at the end of it if not too long, but then some idiot would say we are doing for free….(which often we are..)).

  2. Great as always agree with your choice but would add pro bono publica at the beginning to explain to what we are always faithful.

  3. Great as always, Greg.
    A couple years ago I came up with such a phrase for our ED.
    The Olympic “Citius, Altius, Fortius” was on my mind, but “Faster, Higher, Stronger” didn’t fit the ED entirely. Or at least it smacked of an ever faster spinning hamster wheel, going nowhere and from which we could not Exitus.

    So here’s what I landed upon: Optimus, Curimus, Protinus.
    Using my best pig latin and web translator, that means “Best Care Without Delay”

    It’s on my business card.
    I hoped it might catch on in my ED.
    Turns out they’re not into Latin so much.

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