In English, Spanish, French and German (and many more languages, but these are the ones I use everyday), latent – latente – refers to what is not obvious, what is apparently inactive but stays alive underneath. For a Spanish thinking speaker, the idea of latent very easily suggest the idea of alive. In Spanish latente comes not only from hiding (and what is hiding may be alive, if not, it’s only hidden), but fron the verb latir, whose participle present form – nowadays disused – would be also latente*, and which designates a special way of beating, such as the beating of a living heart – indeed hiding in the body. That is why even involving a disused verbal form latente suggests the idea of alive.
Nevertheless, this is a false friend. The origin of the Spanish verb latir has nothing to do with the Latin verb latere. It comes, in fact, from the Latin verb glattire, to bark, which started to be used as a metaphor of the beating heart by the poets of the renaissance. Note that it was, perhaps, not by chance that hearts barked in the renaissance. A demanding heart is a barking heart, and in fact, not long before, in the late middle ages, the idea of courtly love had come up as a furious lyrical vindication of freedom to love against social rules, courtesy protocols, political and familiar conventions.*
Anyway, it has been the evolution of languages – with its subtle, mysterious nooks, jumps, long roads and whimsical shortcuts – which has merged both words into the same term. Latente and latente, what hides and what beats, like that mysterious beat that renaissance poets could hear barking deep inside, whenever they auscultate a little in reality.
The tendency – the temptation – to confound the concepts of latente and latir, hiding and beating deep inside, is almost inevitable for a Spanish speaking mind, but it is also deeply charged with poetry: Latent is what hides and is what is alive. Latent is the invisible power underneath it all, the seeds, the heart beating in the body, the dormant volcanoes, the origin of earthquakes and the rain before the storm. Latent is in the energy that hides in the phase changes of matter, the forces of resilience, the seeds of freedom, barking in the history of any collective or individual revolution.
* or latiente. There is still a debate, depending of the country and region.
* I suggest reading about it in the beautiful essay from Octavio Paz: The double flame. Love and Eroticism. La llama Doble. Amor y erotismo (Mexico, Seix Barral, 1993).