Abandon Ye Latin

Lindisfarne Gospels

I started taking Latin in the 6th grade, when we were offered one quarter each of Latin, French, Spanish, and German. I continued through high school, college, and graduate school, for a grand total of, I believe, 11 years of Latin. I am not very good at Latin. Hell, I’m still working on conversational English.

What I have learned well, though, is what all of those nice little Latin abbreviations that pepper our readings actually mean:

 i.e., et al., e.g., etc., cf., cp., ibid.*

Do you know what they mean? It’s a bit of a trick question, because, whether you do or do not know what these stand for (and, thus, know or not know how to employ them properly), my advice is the same: scratch ’em.

I retain an abiding affection for Latin. I can trace an expansive vocabulary and a love of sentence construction back to my years in the classics. They are so dear to me that I lived in Boston University’s “Classics House” for four years. The poets, the scholars, those expert phrase-turners, they all claim some portion of my nerdy little heart. But even I know Latin is dead—insofar as modern writing is concerned, at least.

When you write “i.e.” or “e.g.” rather than “that is” or “for example,” you are setting yourself apart from the audience, bolstering your legitimacy as an authority by claiming a familiarity with some ancient lineage of scholarship. And it’s annoying. (Perhaps worse: if you’re using these wrong, you’re part of a whole new trend and I can’t let that happen to Latin.)

Again, I implore: stop hiding behind jargon, even the beautiful jargon. Talk to your audience—not down to them, but understanding that very few of them are heavily tattooed, foul-mouthed editors with over a decade of Latin under their no-longer-studded belts. If you are not about to send an illuminated manuscript penned on vellum off to AJS or JM, I’m sorry. Latin’s not for you, and I’m clearly a little curmudgeonly.

*Now, loosely, here are the answers:

that is, and others, for example, and the rest, confer (see also), compare (note conflicting evidence from), and in the same place

On the other hand, if you really want to nerd out, might as well start using id. and ead. to make your bibliographies more specific. I’ll let you look those ones up on your own.

For the record, I will particularly miss i.a. and n.b. I welcome your own odes below.

About Letta Page

Founding Associate Editor and Producer (Former) The Society Pages Senior Managing Editor Contexts Magazine In Twitter terms, I self-present as a disarmingly earnest editor, translator of academia, portmanteuse, and domesticated roustabout. More professionally, I might say: I am a jargon-slayer for hire. The founding associate editor and producer of The Society Pages and current senior managing editor of Contexts magazine (the public outreach journal of the American Sociological Association), I have nearly two decades' experience in academic editing across a range of disciplines. I've edited and written copy for publications from Oxford University Press, Routledge, Taylor & Francis, W.W. Norton, the University of Chicago Press, Cambridge University Press, and many others, along with dozens of journals. As a sort of fun "palate cleanser" (trust me, when you're editing books on neoliberalism and genocide, always good to have a fallback), I write copy for organizations like Stand Up! Records and I teach cardio barre fitness classes at Six Degrees Uptown. I also have a background in the visual arts and was a founder of First Amendment Arts (now CoExhibitions) in Minneapolis, MN. I hold degrees in history and classical studies from Boston University and an art degree from the University of Minnesota. pagesmithing.com Click here to read my Friday Roundup posts on The Editors' Desk. Click here to read my contributions to Citings & Sightings.