Frequently Used and Misused Latin Abbreviations | Tips on How to Get Your Research Published
Although Latin abbreviations appear far less often in scholarly writing than they once did, there are still a few that are used with considerable frequency. Unfortunately, they are also misused all too frequently, so a few notes clarifying the meaning, forms and uses of a few of the most common might prove helpful.
The abbreviation ‘cf.’ is the shortened form of the Latin word ‘confer,” which means ‘compare.’ The abbreviation almost always appears in roman font and is generally only used in parentheses or ancillary material such as footnotes or endnotes. Although some scientific publishers will allow its use in the main body of a manuscript, in most cases the English word ‘compare’ or something similar should be used in the running text of a document. Do be aware of the fact that this abbreviation is frequently misused to mean ‘see’ instead of ‘compare.’ If you write ‘cf. apples and oranges,’ it means ‘compare’ the two fruits, not simply ‘see’ both – a subtle but important distinction – so do consider its meaning in relation to the context before you use it.
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The abbreviation ‘e.g.’ stands for the Latin phrase ‘exempli gratia,’ which means ‘for example.’ This abbreviation tends to be used in roman font and appears with great frequency in academic and scientific writing. Like the abbreviation ‘cf.,’ it should in most cases be used only in parentheses or ancillary material such as notes unless guidelines specify otherwise. It is usually separated by a comma from the examples listed after it (e.g., apples, pears and oranges). In the main text of an article or book, equivalent English words (‘for example,’ ‘for instance’ etc.) are preferable. Unfortunately, this abbreviation is used with excessive frequency by some authors, so do check your prose for it. If every other sentence ends with an ‘e.g.’ construction, reconsider and rewrite to use the abbreviation less frequently. Note as well that ‘e.g.’ is often confused with the next abbreviation I discuss here – ‘i.e.’
The abbreviation ‘i.e.’ is the shortened form of the Latin phrase ‘id est,’ which means ‘that is.’ This abbreviation, like the two above, almost always appears in roman font and, as a general rule, should be used only in parentheses or ancillary material. In the normal running text of a scholarly document, equivalent English words – ‘that is’ will work of course, but so will ‘namely’ in some cases – are preferable. A comma usually follows the abbreviation as it would the equivalent words. This abbreviation is used almost as frequently in academic and scientific writing as ‘e.g.’ In fact, it is often confused with ‘e.g.,’ so do reflect on which is most appropriate before using either.
All three of these abbreviations can be incredibly useful and save a little space as well, but they must be employed effectively and selectively. If they are used incorrectly, they can and will confuse readers. If they are overused, especially in the main text of an article or book, they render the prose dull and repetitive. Remember that such abbreviations should never be used as substitutes for thorough argumentation or explanation, but considered as helpful little tools for scholarly writers.
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