When someone says that a process happens ad infinitum, it tends to imply that the process happens again and again, carrying on into the future. But how do you talk about something that has been happening again and again, back into the past, i.e. an infinite regression? Is there a Latin phrase which encapsulates this meaning?

  • I like the question. A Latin phrase I can use when I complain about a proposed change, instead of saying "We have always done it this way!"
    – GEdgar
    Nov 29 '13 at 15:33
  • :') If only there were such. Latin expressions are the ne plus ultra of awesome.
    – Lou
    Nov 29 '13 at 17:59
  • The concept of ad infinitum in reverse is ad infinitum.
    – user49727
    Nov 30 '13 at 12:05

Consider recurrent, perennial, and perpetual.

Recurrent has senses including “Recurring time after time” and “Running back toward its origin” that taken together might suffice.

Although the etymology of perennial includes an element annus, or “year”, perennial also has (since 1750) a sense of enduring or permanent, and wiktionary shows figurative senses that include “Continuing without cessation or intermission; perpetual; permanent; unceasing; never failing” and “Recurrent; appearing or recurring again and again”.

Macmillandictionary.com shows senses of perpetual including “happening so often that you become annoyed as a result [eg] He soon grew tired of her perpetual demands for money” and “literary, continuing all the time [eg] Many people live in perpetual fear of losing their jobs”.

Also note: With its sense of “Endlessly; for ever; neverendingly”, ad infinitum perhaps can refer to a perpetual series of cycles in the past as well as in the future.

  • 1
    +1, but I can't actually upvote yet (I'll be very happy when I reach 200 reputation on an SE website and don't have to go through this reputation fuss on every site.) I think endlessly is probably the best word in this situation :).
    – Lou
    Nov 29 '13 at 17:57
  • There is the word sempiternal
    – GEdgar
    Nov 29 '13 at 22:20
  • @GEdgar - that is a beautiful word.
    – Lou
    Nov 30 '13 at 13:18

How about ab initio?

Wikipedia has it as:

L., lit. "from the beginning", from ablative case of initium "entrance, beginning", related to verb inire "to go into, enter upon, begin".[2]

It's often used to signal that a certain activity has to start again from the top, but perhaps it matches what you're after.

  • I'm not sure it does, because the concept I'm trying to describe is going to the beginning, not from. But then I've never heard the phrase "ad initio", and a Google search turns up nothing, so there may not be a word for it.
    – Lou
    Nov 29 '13 at 15:22
  • 4
    Well, since things don't tend to go forward, backwards in time, perhaps there won't be a common term for it. :) Nov 29 '13 at 15:23
  • Perhaps not! Oh well.
    – Lou
    Nov 29 '13 at 15:33
  • 2
    You can't find "ad initio" because it's grammatically wrong; "initio" is in the wrong case. It's "ad initial" and "ab initio". Both of these phrases can be found using Google. Unfortunately, "ad" means either "at" or "to", so the most common meaning of "ad initium" is "at the beginning". But it is how you would say "to the beginning" in Latin. Nov 29 '13 at 15:55
  • Okay. I guess there's no established and precedented term for the meaning I want, but that's what I expected, so no matter. Ad initium would do if I really had to use it, so thank you :).
    – Lou
    Nov 29 '13 at 15:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.