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6 Latin Abbreviations You Should Know

English uses more Latin abbreviations than you might think.

By
Erik Deckers, Writing for
6-minute read
Episode #808
The Quick And Dirty

AD. Anno Domini, in the year of the Lord
BC. Before Christ

Circa. Around

Et al. Et alia, and others

Sic. Sic erat scriptum, thus it was written

Stat. Statim, immediately

Latin is at the root of many of our words in English, and there are some common abbreviations we use that you may not realize also come from the Latin language.

For example, you've heard me talk about AM and PM, or “ante meridiem” and “post meridiem,” which refer to the time of day. (And note I said meridiEM, not meridiAN.) “Ante meridiem” means before the midday, and “post meridiem” means after the midday.

We've also talked about the difference between "e.g." (or "exempli gratia") which means "for example" or "for instance” and "i.e." (or "id est"), which means "that is" or "in other words." It's not uncommon to confuse the two terms, so just remember this simple mnemonic: "Example" and "e.g." start with the same letter, and "in other words" and "i.e." also start with the same letter.

So what are a few other Latin abbreviations that we use?

BC/AD or BCE/CE

Let’s start with the eras, BC and AD, or BCE and CE.

We use “BC” and “AD” in many parts of the world to show whether a time happened before or after the believed birth of Jesus Christ. It's the current date that began approximately 2,020 years ago in the Gregorian calendar.

"AD" is the abbreviation of "anno Domini," which is Latin for "in the year of the Lord." "Anno" meaning "year," which is where we also get the words "annual" and "anniversary," and "Domini," which means "the Lord." 

"AD" does not mean "after death," which is a common misconception (but is also a decent way to remember what it represents).

Surprisingly, "BC" actually doesn't mean anything in Latin, it just means "before Christ." It refers to anything that happened before AD 1.

If you want to avoid religious terms in your writing, or you're writing for an audience that doesn't use the BC/AD eras, then you can use “CE” instead. “CE” isn’t Latin either; it just means "Common Era." Similarly, you would use “BCE” to mean "Before the Common Era."

Believe it or not, the term "CE" is not new. It has been traced back to 1615 and a book by German astronomer Johannes Kepler—yes, the namesake of the famous Kepler space telescope. "CE" was first used in English circa 1708, and became more widely used in the mid-1800s by Jewish religious scholars.

When it comes to actually using "AD" or "CE," most style manuals agree on where to put it relative to the year. If you're writing about a time that is BC or BCE, you put the era after the year, as in "1000 BC" or "1000 BCE."

But if you're writing about a time that happened within the last 2000 years, you generally don't need to put "AD" or "CE," since it's understood that this is what you mean. But if you do want to use it, put the era before the year: "AD 2021" or "CE 2021," not "2021 AD." 

So should you pick "BC" or "BCE" for your own writing? The MLA says the choice of designation is up to the writer, but it prefers to use "BCE" and "CE." On the other hand, the Associated Press prefers "B.C." and "A.D." because those abbreviations are more common and more widely understood. 

The AP also writes the era abbreviations with periods ("B.C." and "A.D.") whereas the MLA and Chicago Manual of Style don’t.

Finally, if you're Jewish or Muslim, you might also use "A.H.," which can refer to "anno Hebraico," which, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, means "in the Hebrew year" or "anno Hegirae," which means "in the year of Hegira," Muhammad's migration.

Circa

You just heard me say "circa" a minute ago, which is another Latin term that means "around" or "approximately." So when I said "circa 1708," I meant around the year 1708.

The word comes from the Latin word "circum," which is where we also get the words "circle," "circumvent," and "circumference" which is the measurement around a circle.

You can use "circa" in relation to a specific year — "circa 1708" — or a wide range of time — as in "circa the early 18th century."

"Circa" is spelled C-I-R-C-A, but you'll sometimes see it abbreviated as just "c.," "ca.," "cca.," etc.

Et cetera

You also just heard me say "et cetera," or as it was written in my script, "E-T-C."

Both Dictionary.com and Merriam Webster's online dictionary, spell "etcetera" as one word in English (E-T-C-E-T-E-R-A), but it is two words in Latin ("et cetera"), and it is still most often written as two words in English. It means "and the other things" or "and the rest." It's a fancier way of saying "and so on, and so on."

For example, I could say, "Squiggly needs food for his party, such as cake, pie, cookies, etc." In this case, it means "and other things that you eat at a party."

"Et cetera" is usually abbreviated as E-T-C period, although other archaic abbreviations included "&c.," "&/c.," and even "&ca."

And finally, although dictionaries say you can use "et cetera" for things or people, some style guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, say that because the Latin word "cetera" refers to inanimate objects and non-living things, you shouldn't use "etc." to refer to people. Instead, you should use the term "et. al." So let's talk about that.

Et al.

Just like "et cetera," "et al." has two parts: E-T A-L, and it's Latin for "And Al."

Just kidding, it means "and others," and it's an abbreviation for "et alia," but it is used to refer only to people. In fact, to help you remember the difference between "et cetera" and "et al.," just think of "And Al." Since Al is a person, "et al." refers to people.

You typically see "et al." in academic papers when the author is citing a book or article written by several people. The citation might read, "'How to Plan a Party' by Squiggly, et al." which refers to "Squiggly, Aardvark, and Fenster."

Sic

"Sic" is the shortened version for the Latin phrase "sic erat scriptum," which means "Thus it was written," which makes things sound important when you say it out loud. Try it the next time you put together your grocery list.

"Sic" is usually used when you're citing text, and the cited work has mistakes in it, like grammar or spelling errors. You typically put "sic" in brackets to show that you recognize this was an error, and that it's not a mistake on your part.

Let's say Aardvark texted me that "Squigly and I ate too much cake at the party," and he spelled Squiggly with only one G. If I posted that text on my website, I could write "Squigly [sic] and I ate too much cake at the party."

That way, other people who read it recognize that this error was originally Aardvark's and not mine.

"Sic" is also sometimes used as a way to maliciously draw attention to an author's mistake. It's like a little flag that asks the reader to notice the error, saying, "Pay attention to this. Can you believe this?" And perhaps for that reason, because it's rude, the Associated Press now advises writers not to use "sic." Instead they say to either paraphrase the quotation or simply write it as it appears without calling attention to the error.

Stat

Finally, there's "stat," S-T-A-T, which is short for "statim." It means "immediately" or "instantly." It comes from the Proto-Indo-European root word "sta," which means "to stand." It's where we get words like "static" as in "not moving," "station," "stationary," and even "statue."

You hear people say "stat" on a lot of hospital shows, as in "This patient needs 100 milligrams of Benadryl, stat!"

However, most of the articles on this subject said that "stat" is usually written out by doctors and nurses on patient orders. It's not actually shouted during stressful emergency room procedures. Most doctors tend to say "right now" or "immediately," and it's only the TV doctors who shout "stat" because it sounds more dramatic that way.

As for me, I need some coffee stat, because I think there's some cake left from Aardvark's party. It was Al's birthday yesterday.

About the Author

Erik Deckers, Writing for Grammar Girl

Erik Deckers is a professional writer and the co-author of four social media books, including "Branding Yourself." He recently published his first humor novel, "Mackinac Island Nation," and celebrated his 25th anniversary as a newspaper humor columnist. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida.