prima facie
adj. At first sight; before closer inspection

Since last week we had a pretentious German word, this week we will have a pretentious Latin phrase that I used several times in my last research paper. Prima facie (pronounced “pry-muh fah-shee”) has several meanings, but the most common is “at first glance” or “superficially,” and that is the context in which I use it.

For instance, you could say that a prima facie reading of this post may indicate that I’m providing my listener with original information, when I may in fact only be reiterating a dictionary definition and then glossing it for meaning.

The word comes from the Latin prima, meaning “first,” and facie, or “face.”

§1300 · August 9, 2006 · Tags: ·

6 Comments to “Wednesday’s Word: prima facie”

  1. rob says:

    Isn’t it “pry-muh fay-shuh”?

  2. rob says:

    Merriam Webster says both are fine, mea culpa.

  3. abou says:

    With prima facie you have the problem of introducing English pronunciation rules with Latin words. If you go by the Latin pronunciation things turn out differently.

    Prima:
    – Long ‘i’ is pronounced much like we say the letter “e”.
    – Long ‘a’ as in father since this is the ablative form.

    Facie:
    – Short ‘a’ as in rat. This is the same with the ‘a’ in mea.
    – Short ‘i’ as in pin though the tendency is to make it long, which is what probably happened.
    – Short ‘e’ as in pet. This can seem odd since you want to make it a long ‘e’, but that isn’t the way the third declension works.
    – C is pronounced hard like in cat and in this case vowels are produced separately forming three syllables (fa-ci-e).

    This is, of course, the Latin pronunciation, but since this is used in English everything is wacky. Also, the ‘u’ in culpa is short and therefore pronounced in the sameway as in the word ‘hut’.

  4. Rusty says:

    I always try to say Latin phrases with Latin pronunciation, as best I can. Much of it comes automatically now, though there are still times when I’ll Anglicise it. Then I’ll feel awful afterwards, even though it’s natural to Anglicise foreign words and it’s happened countless times in the past with words from many other languages, but then again the beauty of English is its inconsistency so by being inconsistent in this way I’m just staying true to that, so ultimately I let myself off (so to speak).

  5. S4R says:

    I love pronouncing Hispanic names with proper accent, it tingles the throat.

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