Melanie Spiller & Coloratura Consulting
A Tonic for Ramshackle Wordsmiths
Copyright Melanie Spiller 2011. Do not copy without permission.
Gratuitous Latin

I know I have advised against using foreign words or abbreviations in your work with the exception of etc. and et al. But I also recognize that holding a hand up against the avalanche is a foolish undertaking. So here’s a list of common Latin words and abbreviations that are often abused and misused.


ad nauseam: This means “to a sickening degree” and is used to express disgust at the continuation of the subject at hand.

alumnus/alumni: An alumnus is a person who has attended or graduated from a particular school, college, or university. Alumni is plural—several people who have attended the same school.

A.M./P.M.: A.M. is ante meridiem (before noon), P.M. is post meridiem (after noon), usually set in small capital letters with periods. The British use lowercase and italics and keep the periods.

Anon.: In Medieval English (and without a period), this means shortly or immediately. With a period, anon. is an abbreviation for anonymous.

a prori: This means “from the former” and is used to show deductive reasoning from a self-evident proposition or an assumption.

B.C./A.D./B.C.E: B.C stands for “before Christ” and is not Latin at all, but English. It is paired with A.D., or “anno Domini” (meaning the year of our Lord), which is in Latin. B.C.E. stands for “before the common era” and is in English. This term is used by anthropologists and geologists to express a large block of time without the obvious nod to one particular western religion.

ca.: Ca. is short for circa, and means about or approximately. It’s used in regard to dates, so don’t let me catch you using it about gigabytes. 

cf.: This little abbreviation stands for confer, which means “compare” in Latin. Usually it’s used in academic work to ask a reader to nip out and look at another document that confirms an assertion.

e.g.: Here’s a common one that’s often misused. This abbreviation stands for exempli gratia, which means “for example” in Latin. It does not mean “in other words” and you can’t use “for example” in the vicinity without giving an editor an excuse to use the delete key. Notice that you can’t start a sentence with it, but you can start a parenthetical statement within a sentence with it. You also can’t end a sentence with it, unlike the English version (for example).

et al: This stands for et alii, which means “and others” in Latin. It’s what you use instead of etc. when you’re referring to people.

etc.: As you probably know, this stands for etcetera and means “and so forth.” It’s what you use when you’re making a list and the rest of the options are either too many to cite or are of a like kind and not necessary to cite. It’s a pretty awkward way to end a sentence, but it’s not impossible. Do not use etc. when referring to people; then, you'll want et al. 

ibid: This little abbreviation stands for ibidem and means “in the same place” in Latin. If you’re sending readers to another document to which you have previously referred, you can say this and list the page number(s) without having to cite the title, author, publisher, and dates all over again. It’s primarily used in academic writing where there are footnotes or a bibliography.

i.e.: This common abbreviation stands for id est, which means “that is” in Latin. Use it when you are paraphrasing or using similar words to describe something. It does not mean that you are about to provide an example. It only means “in other words.”

mea culpa: This Latin expression means “I admit that I am at fault.” It’s pretty useful in chess games, but probably doesn’t belong in technical prose.

N.B.: Nota bene, the Latin expression meaning “note well” or “take careful note,” is typically used in academic work to point out that something is different than expected or that the reader will become befuddled if they don’t give some nearby fact special attention. It’s usually found in a footnote.

Q.E.D.: Meaning “which was to be demonstrated,” this Latin expression stands for quod erat demonstrandum. Notice that it’s past tense.

q.t.: This abbreviation may have a Latin translation, but I didn’t find one. It appears to mean quiet and is used in the expression “on the q.t.”

q.v.: Quod vide, which means “which see,” is used to send a reader to another source of information.

R.I.P.: This does not conveniently stand for “rest in peace,” although it does mean that. It stands for the Latin, requiescat in pace.

sic: This means “intentionally so written;” in other words, the editor or author knew they were misspelling something or using a bit of slang or bad grammar in an otherwise formal document. It’s also used to indicate that it is printed as it was in the original, where spelling and usage was not yet standardized, like in the 17th century before there were dictionaries.

stet: This lovely little Latin word means “let it stand.” Usually, editors use it to indicate that they have changed their mind about a correction or that they are overruling someone else’s correction. The desktop layout person or typographer knows which version to use if there are a bunch of handwritten notes because stet indicates the original version.

verbatim: This expression is short for verbatim ac literatim, and means “word for word, letter for letter.”

vice versa: this is pronounced “vis-uh ver-suh” where the first “i” is long. The “e” on the end of the first word is pronounced, although it’s not completely wrong not to pronounce it. The expression means “conversely” or “with the order reversed.”