Daily Archives: December 6, 2010

Et Cetera and Others

It's helpful to know a little Latin in case a Roman centurion shows up at your place of business.

Did you ever stop to consider how many languages you speak?  I’m assuming your first language is English, but you know some German:  hamburger, gesundheit, pretzel, dachshund.  You have some French:  chic, liaison, brassiere, faux pas.  Your Japanese vocabulary includes sushi, karaoke, kimono, and karate.  You know a lot of Spanish words:  fiesta, amigo, sombrero, mañana, adiós.  You get by in Italian with pasta, vino, grazie.  Your Mandarin is limited, but you know China’s essential word:  Wal-Mart.

You even know a fair amount of Latin, even though no one other than priests, lawyers, and scientists speak that language anymore.  Because it is a so-called “dead” language, some of your Latin skills may have eroded; perhaps it would be useful to review a few terms that occasionally cause confusion.  Part of the problem is that they are usually abbreviated (which, by the way, is from the Latin word brevis, meaning “short”.)

Depending on your age group and occupation, you may think IE stands for Internet Explorer, or Indo-European, or Industrial Engineer.  In Latin, though, lower-case i.e. stands for id est, meaning “that is”.  Here’s an example of how it might be used in text:  The experiment with gasoline and matches had a predictable result; i.e., an explosion.  Basically, i.e. is a short way to say “in other words”.

It is frequently confused with e.g., the abbreviation for exempli gratia, which translates to “for example”.  Let’s invent a person named Roberta to illustrate the difference between i.e. and e.g.  Roberta is a person with many interests; e.g., ice carving, tambourine music, and genealogy.  That is not a complete list of Roberta’s interests — we didn’t even touch on her enthusiasm for rum drinks — but it gives examples of things she enjoys.  Here’s something else about Roberta, though:  She is extremely loquacious; i.e., she won’t shut up.

Another Latin word that is occasionally useful is sic.  It is pronounced “seek”, and literally means “so”, or “thus”.  It’s used to indicate that a word or phrase is being quoted verbatim, even though it is non-standard or incorrect.  Remember the Woody Allen movie Take the Money and Run?  The bank robber handed over a note that would have been written up in the police report this way:  “Perpetrator presented demand reading  ‘Please put fifty thousand dollars into this bag and abt [sic] natural.  I have a gub [sic]’.”

For some reason sic is italicized, but i.e. and e.g. aren’t.  Another Latin phrase that isn’t italicized is etc., short for et cetera — “and others”.  It’s used to suggest that more of the same have been omitted for brevity, as in, “With the glaring exception of Los Angeles, the National Football League has teams in every major U.S. city:  New York, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, etc.”

If you use et cetera, there should be at least two or three in the list preceding etc.  I also don’t recommend using it in love letters:  “Oh, my darling, I am spellbound by your smile, your eyes, your personality, etc.”

As a Facebook friend might comment:  “Dude, you blue [sic] it.  That wasn’t to [sic] swift.”