Although our language is Germanic in origin, Latin has had a huge influence. It lingers noticeably in the shorthand abbreviations you’ll find peppered through the landscape of written English. Latin phrases are still used in the sciences and the professions, but it’s those little shorthand letters I’m interested in.

We all know etc or et cetera – it literally means “and the others/rest” and gave rise to the ampersand (&), which is an elaborate drawing of the ‘et’. I would not recommend using it in any formal writing, however: it’s lazy style. Other everyday usages are am (ante meridiem), pm (post meridiem), per cent (“for each one hundred”), ps (post scriptum) and re (in re, “concerning”).

You may also come across:
cfconfer, “bring together” “compare”
egexempli gratia, “for example”
ieid est, “that is”

I was thinking sic was an abbreviation too – you see it written after verbatim quotes that contain an error – but it turns out it is a proper word. The Latin is sic erat scriptum “thus was it written”, but sic has its own listing in the English dictionary as an adverb. Its definition is “written exactly as it stands in the original”, and it was accepted into the language in the 1850s.

Whether to put full stops in, ie “i.e.”, is a matter of preference. Contemporary thinking seems to favour the route of least punctuation.

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