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You Got Latin in My English! Writing Terms

This post is the second in my series called "You Got Latin in My English!" (Read the first post, on literary terms, here.) This series focuses on Latin terms that are commonly used in English; I provide the literal meanings of the terms and then explain how to use them in context.


In this post, I focus on seven terms that relate to writing and editing. After reading this post, you will be able to better understand and converse about narrative forms and types of writing. The terms that I explain below are cf., et al., ibid., loc. cit. (& op. cit.), nota bene, sic, and viz.

You Got Latin In My English! Writing Terms: cf. (compare), et al. (and others), ibid. (in the same place), loc./op. cit. (in the place/work cited), nota bene (pay attention), sic (thus), and viz. (that is to say)

A Note On Periods

Before I get to the Latin terms, I want to first address the use of periods in these terms. Most of these terms (along with other common Latin-origin terms such as etc., e.g., and i.e.) are used in abbreviated form the vast majority of the time; as such, it is important to know the full, original Latin phrases so that you know where to put periods. In short, a period is needed whenever a word is abbreviated. Thus, in et al., there is a period after "al." (because it is short for alii) but not after "et" (which is a full word, meaning "and"). The terms nota bene and sic are not abbreviated, so don't use periods; all the other terms here are at least partly abbreviated.


Cf. (Confer)

Literal Translation: "compare"

The abbreviation cf. (from the Latin confer, meaning "compare") is used in place of the phrase "compare with"—only in parenthetical text. The key rule to keep in mind is that this abbreviation is only appropriate if the comparison is clear; the item to be compared must immediately follow cf., and the item that it is being compared to must come just before the parentheses. If either part of the comparison is missing, then cf. does not make sense. This abbreviation is commonly misused, so I'd recommend avoiding it unless you are absolutely sure that you are using it correctly; you can always use a slightly longer English phrase instead.


This abbreviation is most commonly used to compare the results or conclusions from two or more sources. This is an abbreviation, so do use a period; however, do not use a comma after cf. Here are a couple examples of cf. in action:

Johnson and Combs (2014) found a particularly high rate of transmission (cf. Ackroyd, 2012; Benitez, 2018). The use of metatheatrical devices in 1938's "Our Town" was very unusual for its time (cf. the previous year's "You Can't Take It With you").

Et Al. (Et Alii)

Literal Translation: "and others"

Et al. (an abbreviation of et alii) is used to end an incomplete list, much like etc. (which means "and so on"). The difference is that et al. is used with lists of people, and etc. is used with lists of things. Specifically, et al. is used in citations (and sometimes references) when a source has many authors; typically, the author list is shortened to just the first author's name and et al.


Note that, unlike many Latin abbreviations, it is fine to use et al. in running text, especially in a narrative citation (i.e., when the authors are named in the sentence itself). Here are a couple uses of et al.; these uses are APA-style in-text citations (one narrative and one parenthetical). This assumes that the cited source has at least 3 authors.

Reginald et al. (2019) found that taking vitamin C supplements had no effect on all-factor death rate. Various analyses of proto-Germanic texts (e.g., Kurtzweil et al., 2010) have shown many key differences from modern German texts.

Ibid. (Ibidem)

Literal Translation: "in the same place"

You may be familiar with ibid. if you have ever used a note-based citation style (such as Chicago or Bluebook). It is used in a citation to indicate that the source for a given note is the same as the one in the previous note. It can be used with a page number (in which case, the source is the same, but the location is different) or on its own (in which case, both the source and the page number are the same). It is used only in citations and not in main text.


Ibid. is generally only used in note-based citation styles; in-text-citation styles such as APA generally do not allow the use of ibid. In fact, even the most recent edition of the Chicago style manual discourages the use of ibid. in notes (though it does still allow it). Thus, you could say that usage of ibid. is on its way out; however, it has been used plenty in past documents, so it is important to know what it means for when you inevitably do encounter it.


Always use a period with ibid. Depending on the style, you may use a comma between ibid. and a page number, or you may omit the comma. In the old-school Chicago-style example notes below, ibid. refers to the first source (Melville's Moby-Dick) in each case. The third citation has no page number, so it is referring to the same page number as the second citation (280). If note 4 were to refer to another source, then any use of ibid. in note 5 would refer to that source (not to Melville).

  1. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851), 235.

  2. Ibid., 280.

  3. Ibid.


Loc. Cit. (Loco Citato) & Op. Cit. (Opere Citato)

Literal Translation: "in the location cited" & "in the work cited"

I've grouped these together because they are very similar in use. First, loc. cit. means "in the location cited" (loc meaning "location"); it replaces the title of a work and the citation location. Second, op. cit. means "in the work cited" (the root opere means "work," as you may remember from my explanation of "magnum opus"); it replaces just the title of a work. These abbreviations were formerly used in citations to stand in place of repeated information.


For instance, you might have said "(Jones, loc. cit.)" to indicate that you were citing the same part of the Jones source that you previously cited, and you might have said "(Jones, op. cit., 10)" to indicate that you were citing the previously cited Jones source again, but in a new location. These abbreviations were typically used to avoid repeating the title of a work. They are only used in citations, and periods are always used after both parts of each phrase.


However, these abbreviations have fallen out of favor because they tend to be confusing and hard to follow. If the Jones source in the previous examples was in a different part of the text, then the reader would have to track it down. The situation gets even worse if there are multiple sources with Jones as the first author. Thus, few major style guides still use op. cit. or loc. cit. Still, you could definitely encounter these terms in other works, so it helps to know how to use them.


Nota Bene

Literal Translation: "mark well"

The term nota bene literally means "mark well"; in practical terms, this means "pay attention to this." Thus, you may add nota bene (followed by a comma) before you make a key point to call attention to the text that follows. However, it is important to know that you usually do not need to add nota bene, as it will usually be easier and clearer to use English terms to convey your emphasis. In fact, I'd recommend avoiding this phrase unless you are sure that your readers will be familiar with it (e.g., if you are writing for an advanced academic audience).


This term is not abbreviated, so do not use periods. You do need to put a comma after it (and, if necessary, before it) to set it off from the surrounding text, however. Here are a couple examples of nota bene in action:

When you enter the lab, nota bene, wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap. Nota bene, do not use "he" as a generic third-person pronoun; use "they" instead.

As noted above, it is usually best to use more common English phrases instead of this term, even if those phrases are a bit wordier; clarity is generally more important than concision. Here are the preceding examples rewritten without nota bene:

Please note that, when you enter the lab, you must wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap. Here is a very important rule: Do not use "he" as a generic third-person pronoun; use "they" instead.

Sic

Literal Translation: "so" or "thus"

Sic is a Latin word that can mean "so" or "thus"; in English, it is used to mean, essentially, "the original text was written thus; don't blame any errors on me." You use it when quoting another source, and it indicates to the reader that you are aware that the preceding text contains grammatical or other errors. This lets the reader know that you have not made a transcription error; it also calls attention to the error in the original text.


Sic is a full word, so it does not use a period. It is almost always used in square brackets; this is because it occurs within quoted material, and the square brackets indicate that sic itself is not part of the quote. Unlike some of the other terms in this post, sic is quite common and has no restrictions on its use. You can use it in any type of document, provided that you are quoting some text that has an error in it. Here are some examples of how to use sic in a sentence:

A sign at the club's entrance reads, "no minor's [sic] admitted without a guardian." The Black-Eyed Peas topped the charts with songs such as "Let's Get It Started" and "I Gotta [sic] Feeling."

Viz. (Videlicet)

Literal Translation: "that is to say"

Viz. is an abbreviation of the Latin videlicet*, which means "that is to say." Much like that phrase, you can use it to introduce a representative example or to restate the preceding text (in other words, it can be used in place of either "e.g." or "i.e."). This term is somewhat common in academic and legal writing, but most people aren't familiar with it, so I would not recommend using it outside of those contexts (and I'd check with your style guide before using it, regardless).


Because it is an abbreviation, be sure to include the period; if viz. isn't in a parenthetical, you need to include a comma before it, but you do not need a comma after it. Here are a couple uses:

Early "talkies," viz. 1921's "Dream Street," used a sound-on-disc system to provide synchronized sound. To build your own sandwich, choose a protein (viz. tempeh or one of 10 meats), a bread, a sauce, and as many toppings as you'd like.

* If you are wondering where the "z" in the abbreviation comes from, Latin used the letter "z" as a replacement for the suffix "-et".

That's all for this edition of You Got Latin in My English! Are there any other Latin terms that you would like me to explain in a future post in this series? If so, let me know in the comments or via email (info@elevationediting.com). And of course, if you don't want to worry about the proper usage of these terms—or about making sure your writing is grammatical, clear, concise, and well-structured—then please request a quote or consultation at ElevationEditing.com. I'd love to help you improve your writing!

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