Quid pro quo

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

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. For example when buying an item of clothing or a gallon of milk, a pre-determined amount of money is exchanged for the product the customer is purchasing, therefore, they have received something but have given up something of equal value in return.

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 In cases of "Quid Pro Quo" business contracts, the term takes on a negative connotation because major corporations often cross ethical boundaries in order to enter into these very valuable, Mutually Beneficial, agreements with other major big businesses. In these deals, large sums of money are often at play and can consequently lead to promises of exclusive partnerships indefinitely or promises of distortion of economic reports, for example.[2][3]

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.

In United States labor law, workplace sexual harassment can take two forms; either "Quid pro quo" harassment or hostile work environment harassment.[4] "Quid pro quo" harassment takes place when a supervisor requires sex, sexual favors, or sexual contact from an employee/job candidate as a condition of their employment. Only supervisors who have the authority to make tangible employment actions (i.e. hire, fire, promote, etc.), can commit "Quid pro quo" harassment.[5] The supervising harasser must have "immediate (or successively higher) authority over the employee.”[6] The power dynamic between a supervisor and subordinate/job candidate is such that a supervisor could use his/her position of authority to extract sexual relations based on the subordinate/job candidate's need for employment. Co-workers and non-decision making supervisors cannot engage in "Quid pro quo" harassment with other employees, but an employer could potentially be liable for the behavior of these employees under a Hostile work environment claim. The harassing employee's status as a supervisor is significant because if the individual is found to be a supervisor then the employing company can be held vicariously liable for the actions of that supervisor.[7] Under Agency law, the employer is held responsible for the actions of the supervisor because he/she was in a position of power within the company at the time of the harassment.

To establish a Prima facie case of "Quid pro quo" harassment:

Once the plaintiff has established these three factors, the employer can not assert an affirmative defense( such as the employer had a sexual harassment policy in place to prevent and properly respond to issues of sexual harassment), but can only dispute whether the unwelcome conduct did not in fact take place, the employee was not a supervisor, and that there was no tangible employment action involved.

Explaining the Three Factors:

Difference Between Hostile Work Environment Claims and "Quid pro quo" Harassment Claims: Although these terms are popular among lawyers and scholars, neither Hostile Work Environment nor "Quid pro quo" are found in Title VII of the Human Rights of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, and religion. The Supreme Court noted in Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth that these terms are useful in differentiating between cases where threats of harassment are "carried out and those where they are not or absent altogether," but otherwise these terms serve a limited purpose.[13] Therefore,it is important to remember that sexual harassment can take place by a supervisor, and an employer can be potentially liable, even if that supervisor's behavior does not fall within the criteria of a "Quid pro quo" harassment claim.

United Kingdom

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. 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.


While quid pro quo may be a latin phrase, it did not gain its current meaning until the late 1500's. During the 1530's, the term referred to either intentionally or unintentionally substituting one medicine from another. This may also have extended to a fraudulent substitution of useful medicines for an ingenuine article. By the end of the century, quid pro quo evolved into a more current use to describe equivalent exchanges.[14]

In 1654, quid pro quo gained a second form of expression: "One good turn deserves another" as used in The reign of King Charles: an history disposed into annalls.[15][16] The phrase "One good turn deserves another" would go on to have a different meaning: "when you do a helpful or kind act for someone who has done something good for you" according to the Cambridge Dictionary.[17] In its current form, this phrase is notably more positive than quid pro quo, which is often associated with sexual harassment.[10][12][13]

Quid pro quo would go on to be used mainly in legal and diplomatic contexts as an exchange of equally valued goods or services and continues to be today.[18]

In literature

Multiple definitions and examples of quid pro quo have been provided over time through many famous and infamous works of literature.

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[19]

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[20]

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!"

The Urban Dictionary (an online dictionary containing words used in today's society, primarily by Generation Z) defines "quid pro quo" as "Latin - this for that. I want something. You want something. You give me what I want, I'll give you what you want."

Max Muller's Manager's Guide to HR: Hiring, Firing, Performance Evaluations, Documentation, Benefits & Everything Else You Need to Know has a whole chapter designated to hot topic issues such as sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Within this chapter, Muller gives the Latin translation of "quid pro quo" (this for that) and provides various techniques to combat it.

Other meanings

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.[21] 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 Latin word stet ("let it stand"), not with "QPQ".

In the Romance 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").[22][23] 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.[22] 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

Look up quid pro quo in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Note[24] s

  1. Merriam-Webster, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth Edition)
  2. http://legaldictionary.net/quid-pro-quo/
  3. For example, "2302 Unconsciable contract or term". Uniform Commercial Code. Cornell University. 2003. Retrieved 15 February 2014{{inconsistent citations}}
  4. "What do I need to know about... Workplace Harassment". United States Department of Labor. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
  5. "Vance v. Ball State". Oyez, ITT Chicago-Kent School of Law.
  6. "Faragher v. City of Boca Raton". Cornell University Legal information Institute. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  7. "Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth". Oyez. Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Tech.
  8. "29 CFR 1604.11 - Sexual harassment.". Cornell Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
  9. "Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 69, 106 (1986.)".
  10. 1 2 "Sexual Harassment: What is quid pro quo harassment?". ABA: American Bar Association. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  11. "Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 754 (1998).".
  12. 1 2 "Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders". Oyez. ITT Chicago-Kent School of Law. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  13. 1 2 "Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth". Cornell University Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  14. "Definition of QUID PRO QUO". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2016-10-25.
  15. L'Estrange, Hamon; L'Estrange, Hamon; Faithorne, William (1656-01-01). The reign of King Charles : an history disposed into annalls. London : Printed by F.L. and J.G. for Hen: Seile, Senior and Junior, over against St. Dunstans Church in Fleetstreet, and Edw: Dod, at the Gun in Ivy-lane.
  16. reserved., Phrase Finder is copyright Gary Martin, 1996-2016. All rights. "Quid pro quo - meaning and origin.". www.phrases.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-10-25.
  17. "one good turn deserves another Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary". dictionary.cambridge.org. Retrieved 2016-10-25.
  18. Drew (2014-10-22). "Understanding "Quid Pro Quo"". Mises Institute. Retrieved 2016-10-25.
  19. Bierce, Ambrose (2001). Schultz, David E.; Joshi, S. T., eds. The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary. University of Georgia. ISBN 9780820324012. Retrieved 15 February 2014.
  20. The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce. Project Gutenberg. 2008. Retrieved 15 February 2014.
  21. "Blunder made by using or putting one thing for another (now rare)" – Concise Oxford Dictionary, 4th edition, 1950.
  22. 1 2 "qui pro quo". Vocabulario Trecanni (in Italian). Retrieved 17 February 2014.
  23. 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.
  24. "CHAPTER 7: Hot-Button Issues: Sexual Harassment and Workplace Violence: Books, Articles, & More...". eds.b.ebscohost.com. Retrieved 2016-10-25.
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