Last week, after writing about et cetera, I received a flood of requests (okay, four) to address i.e. and e.g., two other common but frequently misused Latin abbreviations. Though from experience it seems to me that people often just choose one willy-nilly, it’s worth learning the difference since they are, in fact, different and we use them a lot.
Still, it can be hard to remember which is which. So I don’t mix them up, several years ago I taped the two with their meaning on my bulletin board at work. Take a look below and just ignore the fact that I also have photos of Mary Todd Lincoln and Evelyn Waugh on my bulletin board; it’s a long story.
Here are a couple of mnemonic devices that may help you:
Each of these abbreviations is followed by a comma: Septimus was interested in many things, e.g., English verse, French cuisine, and Italian paintings. You also need to precede these with either a comma, semicolon, or parenthesis. Note that since e.g. means “for example," which indicates an incomplete list, tacking on etc. would be redundant.
No one ever actually writes these terms in full. In fact, in the classic Dictionary of Modern English Usage, first published in 1926, of id est H.W. Fowler wrote that to do so “is now so unusual as to convict one of affectation.” Just imagine what you'd be convicted of today.
(If this post's headline confuses you, you must click here.)