A bit of Latin
=== by Bob Sutherland ===
I may have been one of the last students to study Latin in high school. My guidance teacher told my parents it would improve my French and English skills. I would have preferred to have been taking one of the first Computer courses being offered in Canadian high schools instead. Regardless of what happened back then there is still some Latin abbreviations hanging around that every modern student needs to know. These abbreviations appear frequently in high school, college and university lecture notes and textbooks.
On this page you will find definitions of e.g., i.e., etc., et al, ∴, informal versus formal writing style, Latin Quarter and a few other things that I usually teach my students during the first week of school in my courses.
Once upon a time everyone who attended university had to study Latin as one of the subjects they learned. The Latin Quarter of old towns is the section of town where all of the Latin speaking university students and graduates once lived. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, authors, musicians, scientists, teachers and anyone who had attended university would prefer to live in the Latin Quarter with the university students. Here they could regularly participate in lively discussions with their neighbours who they might consider to be almost as worldly and intelligent as themselves. Living anywhere else meant that someone with the high social status of knowing how to speak Latin would be surrounded by low social status peasants and labourers for neighbours.
Latin abbreviations: e.g., i.e., etc., et al
Today very few students take a Latin course in high school or university. There are a few Latin words and abbreviations though that all students must learn because they are very commonly used as a form of shorthand in lecture notes and textbooks in high school, community college and university.
- e.g. = "exempli gratia" in Latin
- means "for example" in English; alternative phrase "such as"
When using a formal writing style such as an essay there should be some punctuation mark or parenthesis before e.g..
- i.e. = "id est" in Latin
- means "that is" in English
Used to add explanatory information or to state something in different words.
- etc. = "et cetera" in Latin
- means "and others", "and the rest", "and so forth", "and other things" in English
Et means "and" so do not write "and et cetera" as the extra "and" would be redundant.
Notice that et cetera is two words and the first word is et, not ex which is how many people mispronounce it.
Notice that in the spelling of the abbreviation etc. the "t" comes before the "c".
Answering a test question by stating one or two items followed by etc. when the teacher wants you to write out the whole list will not get you any marks in high school.
e.g. Question: List the oceans of the world.
Incorrect Answer: Indian Ocean, Arctic Ocean, etc..
Correct Answer: Indian Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Southern Ocean.
- etceteras (plural)
- means "usual additions" or "extra things" in English
Unlike the above three abbreviations the word etceteras is not well known or used by most people.
Etceteras may be used by a lawyer, doctor or someone's boss every time they finish dictating the body of a letter to their secretary. The word etceteras would be a quick way to tell the secretary to add all of the usual things business letters normally have like addresses, date and a closing, i.e. "Yours Sincerely", when typing the letter.
- et al = "et alii" in Latin (1)
- means "and others" in English
When many authors work together to write a single academic book, academic article or scientific paper then often the list of names is shortened to just the first name followed by et al. For example, if I were to tell you that a high school Science textbook listed R. Timble, J. Koza, D. Painter and E. Floyd as the authors then I can later refer to the textbook as simple the book by R. Timble et al. I must give you the full list of authors, probably in the bibliography or reference section of my essay, before I can shorten the list to R. Timble et al.
- et al = "et alibi" in Latin (2)
- means "and elsewhere" in English
Etc. is used for a list of things and is often part of students' vocabulary before they reach high school. Et al (et alii) is used for a list of people, almost always authors. The term may not be familiar to students before they encounter it at university. Et al (et alibi) is used for a list of places and is very rarely used or understood by anybody.
Words that do not exist and words that can be reduced to dots
- ∴ = therefore
- The word therefore is represented by three dots pointing upwards in the shape of a triangle. Be aware that the symbol for the word since is the same three dots but the triangle is rotated 180 degrees so that it is pointing down. The symbol for the word therefore is mainly used at the beginning of a line in Math equations. Like many Math symbols you may see it occasionally appear in another subject in the notes a teacher or professor is writing on the blackboard for you to copy during a lecture.
- ain't = is not = isn't
- My father always told me when I was a child that I would never find the word ain't in any dictionary so I should stop using it. Well for the past few years I actual have been able to find the word ain't in many of the dictionaries being used in schools. It is always listed as a slang word though with a warning that you should not use the word ain't when speaking and writing proper English.
- alot = a lot
- Despite the best efforts of my students over the years to convince the editors of Canadian English school dictionaries that the two words a lot should be spelled as one compound word alot I have never found the proposed new spelling in any dictionary. Maybe it will help the ongoing Add alot to our dictionary campaigning of my students if I were to type alot here on my web page a few times and then publish it on the Internet. Theoretically that is how new words get into the dictionaries. When people publish the new words and their meanings in publically available documents the dictionary editors then find the new words and adding them to their dictionaries. In the meantime, you would be surprised at how many times a high school teacher marking students' assignments with a red pen can find and circle the spelling mistake alot during a teaching career.
Formal versus Informal Writing Styles
In elementary school you were taught an informal style of writing. Basically you were taught to write down things the way people say them in everyday conversation. You were taught how to spell words like don't, they're, can't, you're and other words that contain an apostrophe replacing one or more missing letters.
Whenever you are writing dialogue of what people say in short stories, novels, plays, television and movie scripts you will probably use an informal style of writing.
People often use an informal style of writing when sending personal letters and messages to their friends and family. Your friends and family know who you are and have shared many experiences with you so it should be easy for them to understand your writing.
In high school and university you will be expected to learn how to write using a more formal style of writing. You will be required to always spell out phrases such as "do not", "they are", "cannot" and "you are". You will be discouraged from using slang phrases and local expressions that maybe only people living in your environment would understand.
When using a formal style of writing your target audience can be expanded beyond just your friends, family and elementary school teacher to include the world's population or any group of people within it. You will have to spell out words and express yourself so that people of any age in any country can understand what you have written.
The pages of this website and many traditional format school textbooks use a formal writing style if you need some examples to guide you.