Academic Tips and Tricks

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Learn Your Latin

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You might notice in your reading that a lot of old-school (or in some cases just plain pretentious…) academics like to scatter their work with Latin (and French) phrases and acronyms. In some cases the Latin phrase really is the most pithy and exact way to get your point across, and sometimes they’re just unnecessary. However, you will encounter them, and if the text is recommended or compulsory reading you’ll have to get to grips with Latin just as you would any other discipline-specific terminology. You can also use them in your own writing, but never do this just to try to sound more intelligent, trust me, your tutors will see right through that.

So here’s a quick Latin guide for some frequently encountered terms:

  • i.e. and e.g.

These two Latin abbreviations (standing for id est and exempli gratia) are often confused. i.e. means ‘in essence’ or ‘in other words’ and e.g. means ‘for example’. Here are the examples Grammar Girl uses for clarification:

Squiggly loves watching old cartoons (e.g., DuckTales and Tugboat Mickey). The words following e.g. are examples, so you know that these are just some of the old cartoons that Squiggly enjoys.

Squiggly loves watching Donald Duck’s nephews (i.e., Huey, Dewey, and Louie). The words following i.e. provide clarification: they tell you the names of Donald Duck’s three nephews.

  • par exemple – this is not Latin, it’s French, but I include it here because it’s yet another way to say ‘for example’
  • a priori – this one is actually useful as it’s a very succinct was of expressing a tricky concept. it means ‘from what comes first’ – it means something not supported by factual study or personal experience in the physical world. It means that something is a deduction – something that exists in the mind. Here is a quote from Wikipedia describing a priori reasoning:

Galen Strawson has stated that an a priori argument is one in which “you can see that it is true just lying on your couch. You don’t have to get up off your couch and go outside and examine the way things are in the physical world. You don’t have to do any science.”sic – this is a really important one you will need to know and use

  • sic – this is a really important one you will need to know and use. It means ‘so’ or ‘thus’ and is used predominantly in quotes to show where something incorrect or odd-looking appeared in the original quote – this shows you haven’t transcribed or copied something wrongly. It is inserted into quotes in square brackets like so: ‘he signed his name e. e. cummings [sic]’
  • per se – for lovers of South Park, this conjures up an undeniable image of vampire kids. However, it does actually have a meaning and a correct usage. per se means ‘fundamentally’, ‘of itself’, ‘in itself’, ‘inherently’. It’s often used to make mild negatives ‘it’s not illegal per se’ (it’s not fundamentally illegal, but it’s probably not advised) ‘I wouldn’t say that per se’ (I wouldn’t say exactly that, but I might say something similar).
  • vis-a-vis – (pronounced veez-ah-vee) – this is also French. It literally means face to face, but is often used in context to mean something like ‘in relation to’ or ‘compared with’. In this quote from it means ‘when compared to’:
Traveling by sea ferry offers certain benefits regarding personal comfort and transporting luggage vis-a-vis  air travel.
and in this one it literally means ‘opposite’:
They were now vis-à-vis the most famous painting in the Louvre.
  • fait accompli – this means ‘an accomplished fact’ or ‘a thing already done’:

The enemy’s defeat was a fait accompli long before the formal surrender.

  • vice versa – this is a very common phrase meaning ‘and the other way around’ e.g. she dislikes me, and vice versa – meaning ‘she dislikes me and I also dislike her’
  • bona fide – something presented in good faith, something truly authentic: ‘a bona fide example of William Shakespeare’s handwriting’
  • quasi – meaning ‘resembling’ or ‘having some of the features of’ – often used disparagingly almost the opposite of bona fide. For example ‘ she has written a bona fide scientific paper’ vs. ‘she has written a quasi-scientific paper’ (the first paper has all the rigor of proper scientific writing, the second is pretend or pseudo-scientific – perhaps it’s about lay-lines or homeopathy)
  • verbatim – ‘word for word’ a verbatim quote has no alterations or improvisations.
  • et alii – the full form of et al. meaning ‘and others’ used in Academic writing when a list of authors is longer than two, e.g. ‘Smith et al. (2009)’. When using this remember you’re talking about plural authors (not just Mr Smith) and always put the full list of authors in your bibliography. et al. should only be used for in-text references.
  • ad nauseam – literally means ‘until nausea’ and usually used figuratively to mean something that has been going on forever until everyone is sick of it.
  • ergo – is a direct substitute for ‘therefore’ ‘I think ergo I am’.
  • ad hoc – a thing put together quickly to fill a particular need

I hope this is useful and hasn’t gone on ad nauseam. The quotes used from Grammar Girl et al were all verbatim and hopefully have been supported by evidence as opposed to being a priori. I admit this was a fairly ad hoc entry vis-a-vis Latin terms and ergo I may have omitted some. If so let me know. And don’t do what I’ve just done; never use Latin when English will do!


Author: Liz

Hi, I'm Liz. I like easy crafts, photography, cooking, lifestyle blogs and YouTube videos. I work as a part-time proofreader and am currently studying for a PhD in linguistics.

One thought on “Learn Your Latin

  1. Pingback: Jargon & Terminology | Academic Tips and Tricks

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