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Salvete Omnes! I hope it has been a pleasant week. However, for us Latin enthusiasts, there has been, perhaps, some troubling news about a recent decision made by the government United Kingdom.
Now, this is not about recent politics, of course. This is about a recent announcement made by GOV.UK. They have declared that the common Latin abbreviations native English speakers have grown used to seeing on official forms are to be done away with. In short, “No more eg, and ie, etc”, declared GOV.UK.
(Whether or not that final “etc” in their announcement was meant to be another listed item or was ironically used in its traditionally understood meaning is unknown. Although the latter would have been particularly amusing.)
The Government Digital Service says that they will, from now on, replace the abbreviations with English phrases like, “for example”, “including”, “meaning”, and so on.
Although there are noble intentions for these alterations, Latin-enthusiasts may feel differently as some of the few remaining Latin phrases in English lose another foothold in daily vocabulary. What do you think? Let us know in the comments!
For now, how about we review some of these Latin abbreviations, from the common to the obscure:
(Attention, this is not a list of abbreviations that are going to be removed by the GDS. A comprehensive list has not been given. This is only a list compiled for those interested in the Latin phrases that have survived into common English.)
“in the year of the Lord”
Used to label or number years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The AD or the Christian calendar era is based on the traditionally reckoned year of the conception or birth of Jesus of Nazareth, with AD counting years after the start of this epoch, and BC denoting years before the start of the epoch.
Used in business organizational charts.
Used on the twelve-hour clock to indicate times during the morning.
“around”, “about”, “approximately”
Used in dates to indicate approximately.
“course of life”
A document summarizing your life and work experiences, similar to a resume. The exact usage of the term varies between British English and American English. The singular form is never vita. Curriculum is already singular, vitae is genitive from “vita”, i.e. “of life”, despite the plural-appearing vitae modifier. The true plural is curricula vitae.
“and others”, “and co-workers”.
Sometimes mistakenly considered to mean “and all”, it can also stand for et alia, “and other things”, or et alibi, “and other places”.
“and the others”, “and other things”, “and the rest”.
Very common, there are other archaic abbreviations that include “&c.”, “&/c.”, “&e.”, “&ct.”, and “&ca.”
“for example”, “for instance”
Used when an author wants to provide further examples.
“in the same place (book, etc.)”
The abbreviation is used in citations. It should not be confused with the following abbreviation.
“the same (man)/(woman)”.
It is used to avoid repeating the name of a male author (in citations, footnotes, bibliographies, etc.) When quoting a female author, use the corresponding feminine form, ead. (eadem), “the same (woman)” (eadem is pronounced with stress on the first e-).
“that is”, “in other words”
Used when the author wants to provide clarification on a certain point.
Used to indicate the pound (mass). Interestingly, the Ancient Romans used “libra” as their standard measurement of weight, a name that has lived on.
“Master of Arts”
A postgraduate academic master degree awarded by universities in many countries. The degree is typically studied for in fine art, humanities, social science or theology and can be either fully taught, research-based, or a combination of the two.
“method of operating”
This can refer to one’s body of business practices. Also, in criminology, to refer to a criminal’s method of operation.
“for each one hundred”
“Doctor of Philosophy”
A higher, doctorate degree awarded by many universities.
Used on the twelve-hour clock to indicate times during the afternoon.
Used in prescriptions, you might have seen this on prescription pill bottles.
“after what has been written”
Commonly known as “post script” to English speakers. It is used to indicate additions to a text after the signature of a letter.
“which was to be demonstrated”.
Cited in many texts at the end of a mathematical proof, also a popular phrase to exclaim after riddling or complex work.
“in the matter of”, “concerning”
Often used to prefix the subject of traditional letters and memoranda. However, when used in an e-mail subject, there is evidence that it functions as an abbreviation of “reply” rather than the word meaning “in the matter of”. Nominative case singular ‘res’ is the Latin equivalent of ‘thing’; singular ‘re’ is the ablative case required by ‘in’. Some people believe that it is short for ‘regarding’, especially if it is followed by a colon (i.e., “Re:”).
“may he/she rest in peace”
Commonly though to be “rest in peace” for English speakers. Used as a short prayer for a dead person, frequently found on tombstones. “R.I.P.” can also mean requiescant in pace, which is the plural form and translates to “may they rest in peace”.
“Thus it was written”
Often used when citing text, especially if the cited work has mistakes to show that it has been copied as it was and not mistyped. Sic is often (mis)used as a sign of surprise, incredulity or ridicule regarding the substance of a quote
Often used in medical contexts, reflecting Latin’s history in the field.
Sometimes this isn’t abbreviated or is abbreviated as “v.”
And a bonus for Ancient Rome enthusiasts, the ever famous:
“Senate and People of Rome”
Referring to the government of the ancient Roman Republic, and used as an official emblem of the modern-day comune (municipality) of Rome. It appears on Roman currency, at the end of documents made public by inscription in stone or metal, in dedications of monuments and public works, and was emblazoned on the vexilloids of the Roman legions.
These abbreviations have aided beginner Latin-learners in small part when they were first grappling with the language as they encountered them in daily life, but they have also caused some confusion. Do you think they are still more useful than confusing for the general public?
The Government Digital Service in the UK have decided they are more confusing so they will be avoiding Latin in the future and will even begin correcting the previous uses of Latin in their digital documents. They admitted to having over 4,000 uses of “eg”, alone, so it looks like they’ll have their work cut out for them.