The Meaning of Cum Laude: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of cum laude? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word cum laude, including its definition, usage, word origin, example sentences, and more!

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What does the term cum laude mean?

According to Investopedia and Academic Apparel, the term cum laude is Latin for “with praise,” “with distinction” or “with honor.” Academic institutions like high school, colleges and universities use these Latin honors to signify an academic degree that was awarded with honor. Very few countries besides the United States use the Latin honor system, such as Indonesia, Canada, and the Philippines. Often, students that graduate with Latin honors are recognized at graduation ceremonies. This designation also usually appears on the student’s diploma and can be put on a resume. 

Different universities evaluate which students will receive cum laude and other Latin honors in different ways. Some evaluate students for these designations based on GPA, while others only allot a certain percentage of the graduating class to receive honors. This could mean a higher or lower GPA is required to receive the designation. At highly competitive schools such as Ivy League universities like Princeton University, faculty committees also have to consider a student’s academic record and achievements and are responsible for recommending honors for students. This great honor can be bestowed depending on a plethora of criteria including grades, grade-point average, class ranking, or other academic achievements. Some schools may even have students be part of an honors program, complete an honors degree or honors thesis before graduating with Latin honors. Often, the valedictorian and salutatorian of a school will graduate summa cum laude, and other students on the dean’s light might graduate with any of the Latin honors. These honor students might also get to wear honor cords at graduation to distinguish them as cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude.

There are five different types of Latin honors, with three being very popular and two being less popular. The most popular distinctions are cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude. We have already learned that cum laude means with praise. Magna cum laude means with great praise in Latin, and is a higher honor than the cum laude distinction. Summa cum laude means with highest praise or with highest honor in Latin and represents the highest level of academic distinction. You will often see cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude announced at graduations or on a diploma. The less common Latin honors are maxima cum laude and egregia cum laude, according to Word Sense. Maxima cum laude means with maximal praise in Latin, and is considered to slot between magna cum laude and summa cum laude. Egregia cum laude means with outstanding honor and is intended to be higher than summa cum laude. These are very rarely used. 

What is the origin of the term cum laude?

According to Etymonline, the term cum laude has been used since 1872 and began at Harvard University. This phrase comes directly from Medieval Latin using the Latin cum meaning with and laude, the ablative of laus and the genitive laudis meaning praise. This likely comes from earlier use in Latin at German universities like Heidelberg. From the same Latin root, we get words like laud, which mean to praise, and lauded, which means praised. 

What are other Latin terms?

There are many other Latin terms that one might hear in everyday life. See if you can determine the meaning of these terms as a quiz for yourself! You might even graduate summa cum laude from this Latin quiz, from OEDB!

  •  Per se
  •  Vice versa
  •  Alma mater
  •  Magnum opus
  •  Bona fide
  •  Quasi
  •  Alter ego
  •  Verbatim
  •  Status quo
  •  Sic
  •  Id est
  •  Deus ex machina
  •  Exempli gratia
  •  Et cetera
  •  Ex libris
  •  Ibidem
  •  Et al
  •  Ad infinitum
  •  De facto
  •  In toto
  •  Ipso facto
  •  Tabula rasa
  •  Terra firma
  •  Mea culpa
  •  Persona non grata
  •  In situ 
  •  In vitro
  •  In vivo
  •  Ante bellum
  •  A priori
  •  A posteriori
  •  Ad nauseum
  •  Ergo
  •  Compos mentis
  •  Subpoena
  •  Ad hominem
  •  Habeas corpus
  •  Pro bono
  •  Mens rea
  •  Ad hoc
  •  Per diem
  •  Curriculum vitae
  •  Pro rata
  •  Quid pro quo
  •  Care diem
  •  Cogito ergo sum
  •  Veni vidi vici
  •  In vino veritas
  •  E pluribus unum
  •  Et tu, Brute?

How could the term cum laude be used in a sentence?

The term cum laude will usually be used when talking about graduation and academic achievement. It is rarely used outside of this context. Below is an example of a way in which the term cum laude can be used in an English language sentence. In this example, person 1 and person 2 are talking about their impending graduation.

Person 1: Did you get notified of your honors yet?

Person 2: Yeah! Magna cum laude! How about you?

Person 1: Congrats. Just cum laude.

Person 2: Wait, how is that possible? You have a higher GPA than me.

Person 1: They said they looked at it holistically. Even though I have a 4.0, you were more involved on campus and have more volunteer hours. I didn’t know it wasn’t only based on GPA either.

Overall, the term cum laude is Latin for with praise. This level of distinction is often attributed to scholars at a graduation ceremony who have an honors convocation and above average achievement in school. This honor is determined by a specific grade point average and an institution’s own standards of evaluation for special honors. A high GPA is usually necessary to graduate cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude. 

Sources:

  1. Cum Laude, Summa, Magna, Honor Role, Graduating With Honors, Definition, Requirements | Academic Apparel 
  2. cum laude: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  3. Cum Laude Definition | Investopedia 
  4. cum laude | Origin and meaning of phrase cum laude | Online Etymology Dictionary 
  5. 50 Common Latin Phrases Every College Student Should Know | OEDB