Quid pro quo

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This article is about the meaning and use of the Latin term. For other uses, see Quid pro quo (disambiguation).

Quid pro quo ("something for something" or "this for that" in Latin)[1] means an exchange of goods or services, where one transfer is contingent upon the other. English speakers often use the term to mean "a favour for a favour"; phrases with similar meaning include: "give and take", "tit for tat", and "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours".

In common law[edit]

In common law, quid pro quo indicates that an item or a service has been traded in return for something of value, usually when the propriety or equity of the transaction is in question. A contract must involve consideration: that is, the exchange of something of value for something else of value.

United States[edit]

In the United States, if the exchange appears excessively one sided, courts in some jurisdictions may question whether a quid pro quo did actually exist and the contract may be held void.[2]

In the U.S., lobbyists are legally entitled to support candidates that hold positions with which the donors agree, or which will benefit the donors. Such conduct becomes bribery only when there is an identifiable exchange between the contribution and official acts, previous or subsequent, and the term quid pro quo denotes such an exchange.[citation needed]

In the United States, Quid pro quo harassment occurs when employment or academic decisions or expectations (hiring, promotions, salary increases, shift or work assignments, performance standards, grades, access to recommendations, assistance with school work, etc.) are based on an employee or student's submission to or rejection of sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, or other behaviour of a sexual nature (what was known in the film trade as a casting couch). These cases involve tangible actions that adversely affect either the conditions of work or academic progress.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom, the one-sidedness of a contract is covered by the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and various revisions and amendments to it; a clause can be held void or the entire contract void if it is deemed unfair (that is to say, one-sided and not a quid pro quo); however this is a civil law and not a common law matter.

Political donors must be resident in the UK. There are fixed limits to how much they may donate (£5000 in any single donation), and it must be recorded in the House of Commons Register of Members' Interests or at the House of Commons Library; the quid pro quo is strictly not allowed, that a donor can by his donation have some personal gain. This is overseen by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. There are also prohibitions on donations being given in the six weeks before the election for which it is being campaigned.[citation needed] It is also illegal for donors to support party political broadcasts, which are tightly regulated, free to air, and scheduled and allotted to the various parties according to a formula agreed by Parliament and enacted with the Communications Act 2003.


In India, in September 2013, the Central Bureau of Investigation held a special court and summonsed Jaganmohan Reddy and N. Srinivasan to appear before it before 1 November 2013 in the "Quid Pro Quo case".[3] On 12 February 2014, Srinivasan appeared before the court, which is (as of 21 February 2014) sub judice.[4][5]

In literature[edit]

Ambrose Bierce in his Devil's Dictionary defines:

Influence AB. A pun on the Latin expression quid pro quo, meaning an equal exchange (this for that), and the British word quid, meaning a pound sterling.

— Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary[6]

Elsewhere (since Bierce wrote different definitions depending on which newspaper he was working for) he defined it:

Influence, n. In politics, a visionary quo given in exchange for a substantial quid.

— Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce[7]

In his classic self-help book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill (disciple of Andrew Carnegie) calls quid pro quo "a universal law of the marketplace, which Nature Herself will reckon if it is bent/broken long enough!"

Other meanings[edit]

Quid pro quo may sometimes be used to define a misunderstanding or blunder made by the substituting of one thing for another, particularly in the context of the transcribing of a text.[8] In this alternate context, the phrase qui pro quo is more faithful to the original Latin meaning (see below). In proofreading, an error made by the proofer to indicate to use the original is usually marked with the abbreviation stet ("let it stand"), not with "QPQ".

In Romanic languages such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and French, the phrase quid pro quo is used with the original Latin meaning, referring to a misunderstanding or a mistake ("to take one thing for another").[9][10] In those languages, the Latin phrase corresponding to the English usage of quid pro quo is do ut des ("I give so that you will give").

The Vocabolario Treccani (an authoritative dictionary published by the Encyclopaedia Treccani), under the entry "qui pro quo", states that the latter expression probably derives from the Latin used in late medieval pharmaceutical compilations.[9] This can be clearly seen from the work appearing precisely under this title, "Tractatus quid pro quo," (Treatise on what substitutes for what) in the medical collection headed up by Mesue cum expositione Mondini super Canones universales... (Venice: per Joannem & Gregorium de gregorijs fratres, 1497), folios 334r-335r. Some examples of what could be used in place of what in this list are: "Pro vua passa dactili" (in place of raisins, [use] dates); "Pro mirto sumac" (in place of myrtle, [use] sumac); "Pro fenugreco semen lini" (in place of fenugreek, [use] flaxseed), etc. This list was an essential resource in the medieval apothecary, especially for occasions when certain essential medicinal substances were not available.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth Edition)
  2. ^ For example, "2–302 Unconsciable contract or term". Uniform Commercial Code. Cornell University. 2003. Retrieved 15 February 2014{{inconsistent citations}} 
  3. ^ "Quid-Pro-Quo case: court summons against Jaganmohan Reddy, N Srinivasan". The Economic Times (Hyderabad). 25 September 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  4. ^ "Jaganmohan Reddy case: India Cements MD N. Srinivasan appears before court". The Financial Express. 12 February 2014. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  5. ^ "BCCI chief appears in court in Jagan case". Business Standard. 12 February 2014. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  6. ^ Bierce, Ambrose (2001). Schultz, David E.; Joshi, S. T., eds. The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary. University of Georgia. ISBN 9780820324012. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  7. ^ The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce. Project Gutenberg. 2008. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  8. ^ "Blunder made by using or putting one thing for another (now rare)" – Concise Oxford Dictionary, 4th edition, 1950.
  9. ^ a b "qui pro quo". Vocabulario Trecanni (in Italian). Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  10. ^ Qui pro quo used to refer to a copying mistake made by a scribe, qui being the nominative case and quo the ablative case of the same personal pronoun. "AWADmail Issue 49". A.Word.A.Day. wordsmith.org. 23 September 2001. Retrieved 21 February 2014.