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Five Latin terms that crop up in modern day writing

John Murray

Depending on your age or the type of school you went to, you might remember Latin as something you had to learn but didn’t really see the point in  doing. While learning materials for other languages tend to equip you with funky cartoons to act as visual aids, and examples of how to do fun things like buy a hot dog in France or go swimming in Spain, Latin would perhaps be more readily associated with dry textbooks and word structures.

Nevertheless, Latin phrases are still in common usage in modern times, and you probably use them (or an abbreviation of them) every day without thinking about it. Here are just five you might see in a written article today:

1. Exempli gratia

More commonly seen as the abbreviation ‘e.g.’, this is used to mean ‘for example’. Although almost everyone would recognise it, it is likely that few would be able to tell you what it stood for. The phrase literally means ‘for the sake of example’ and is used to provide an instance or two of an idea you’ve previously introduced, as in:

“The zoo houses several types of wild cat (e.g., lions, tigers, cheetahs).”

2. Id est

This one is commonly misused; it means ‘that is’ and is used to clarify a statement, not to give examples. Writers often confuse i.e. with e.g., but its role is very different. If you had used i.e. in the example above, you would have got it wrong.

Here’s how to use it correctly:

“Historically, grain grinders used a quern-stone, i.e. a cylindrical tool usually made from igneous rock and operated by hand.”

It simply links the unfamiliar term to its explanation.

3. Sic

This is a shortening of ‘sic erat scriptum’ (thus it is written) and is usually placed in brackets after a misspelt or grammatically incorrect word or phrase taken straight from a quote. It indicates that it was the person making the quote who made the mistake rather than the person reporting.

The arrival of Twitter has led to the term being used more commonly, as celebrity Tweets are transcribed verbatim by reporters keen to clarify that the mistake was not theirs. An example appeared in several sources just last week, as Wayne Rooney defended England manager Roy Hodgson against accusations of making an inappropriate joke by Tweeting:

“He done [sic] nothing wrong.”

4. Videlicet

This word is very rarely said out loud, but you might have seen it appear as ‘viz.’ in written text. It simply means ‘namely’ and is therefore used as an alternative to ‘e.g.’ if you want to give the exact example(s) of what you have just discussed rather than just a few general ones, as in:

“I have four brothers and sisters, viz. Richard, Mark, Claire and Lianne.”

5. Et cetera

Literally meaning ‘and the rest’, you will no doubt have used ‘etc.’ many times to bring a long list to a concise conclusion, as in:

“There a many Latin terms in use today: sic, videlicet, et cetera, etc.”

So, does Latin still play a role in English language? Q.E.D.

John is every inch the wordsmith and loves a game of Scrabble above all else. With experience writing for newspapers, John’s time at university was spent studying Creative Writing – something which comes across in his love of the pun.

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