If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you might be wondering just what a quid pro quo is.
Now, don’t worry—I’m not here to start talking politics (so please don’t come for me in the comments).
But since you’re likely to come across this term in cable news shows, legal thrillers, police dramas and more, a basic understanding of this Latin term might be helpful.
The Meaning of Quid Pro Quo
In Latin, quid pro quo literally translates to “something for something.” In modern times, The Law Dictionary adds to this definition only that the two things must carry value.
If we think of the phrase in those terms, it can be applied to pretty much any transaction, such as when you pay for your coffee or exchange baseball cards.
However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, back in the 16th century, quid pro quo was defined as “one thing in exchange or return for another; tit for tat.”
That doesn’t sound like much of a difference—until we see what Merriam Webster has to say about tit for tat, defining it as “an equivalent given in return (as for an injury): retaliation in kind.”
Thus, we can say that quid pro quo always means something for something; but the nature of that something can be friendly or retaliatory.
And while a quid pro quo in itself is usually not illegal, the nature of the exchange (is it shady or not?) and its legality depends a lot on the context and the circumstances.
Quid Pro Quo Examples
Below are several quid pro quo examples. As you’ll see, some of them are as simple as friendly transactions, while others reflect much more questionable ethics.
- You hand the cashier at the coffee shop $3.25 in exchange for your morning latte.
- Your neighbor agrees to watch your dog while you’re on vacation if you mow his lawn next weekend.
- A student pays their professor $100 to give them a passing grade on the final exam.
- An employer provides benefits in exchange for a date, or withholds benefits until the employee goes out with them (this is sexual harassment and definitely not legal).
- A donor gives money to a candidate in explicit exchange for a politician’s official favor (also a felony).
Quid Pro Quo in a Sentence
Below are several examples of quid pro quo in a sentence. The term is generally used as a noun, though it can also be used as an adjective (for example, a “quid pro quo agreement”).
- The CEO was sued over a quid pro quo sexual harassment case.
- In a quid pro quo contract, the model agreed to wear the brand’s clothes and share photos on her Instagram account in exchange for money.
- They developed a quid pro quo agreement, in which he gets free eggs from his neighbor in exchange for his homemade bread.
- What kind of quid pro quo are you going to ask for during the negotiations?
Understanding Latin Terms
They may date back centuries, but some Latin terms continue to appear even in our more casual conversations.
Which Latin terms do you use most frequently? Let us know in the comments below!