Yes, this title was difficult to type without screaming (I translate it to mean Latin Abbreviations Are Totally Adorable, That Is To Say Acceptable In English Composition). I personally believe most of today’s abbreviations, both written and oral, are obnoxious and unnecessary. Yet there are many abbreviations commonly found in formal papers that are considered acceptable. Should some abbreviations be acceptable and, if so, which ones? When? Why?
As many of you know, I work at the writing center here on campus, which I absolutely love! One aspect of writing that has caught my attention in the past few weeks is the misuse or lack of Latin abbreviations throughout a paper. I see many students using etc. as an excuse to not complete a list of ideas or listing ten authors of a source in the text rather than just citing “Author et al”. Most of the time I can tell a student how to correct one of these errors, but what I’ve realized is that by saying, “Just write et al instead of all those names” I’m not actually explaining the purpose for the abbreviation and many times I’m not confident I know what the abbreviation stands for in Latin.
An abbreviation, according to dictionary.com, is a “a shortened or contracted form of a word or phrase used to represent the whole” or “…used to represent a larger, more complex idea, situation, set of beliefs, etc.” Need I point out the irony that an abbreviation, etc., is used in the definition of abbreviation? We use abbreviations in composition to get to the point, give examples, or condense the excessive list of authors in an in-text citation.
Most students are satisfied there; they know what to do and they’ll turn in their papers. However, others, myself included, want to know what these abbreviations mean. Mea culpa—until I decided to write about this subject I didn’t know the Latin words in some of these abbreviations. This lack of knowledge reminds me that there are always two ways to go through life: getting by with whatever works or understand what works and how it works. It definitely is possible to understand how abbreviations are functioning; after all, there are few people today who don’t understand and know how to correctly use LOL. Wouldn’t it be great if we all knew the difference between i.e. and e.g. and when to use them?
I found a good list of common Latin abbreviations on the York University library’s website. From reading around on other sites, these translations seem correct; also, I highly doubt an educational institution would publish a list such as this if it was not accurate. After a search of the difference between i.e. and e.g. which I didn’t know, I found an Oatmeal comic that illustrates this concept.
In my opinion, Latin abbreviations are appropriate, if used correctly, in formal writing. Unlike textisms such as LOL, Latin abbreviations function as tools for succinctness and clarity in academic writing. Furthermore, deliberate, informed usage of these terms demonstrates a writer’s desire to better his or her paper. I hope you find these abbreviations, if not helpful in your academic writing, at least interesting examples of how Latina lingua hodie vivit!