March 11, 2010

Language Tips: i.e. and e.g. and a little etc. & going forward

Posted in e.g./i.e., etc., going forward at 9:11 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: i.e. and e.g. and a little etc.

I was asked to reprise the use of i.e. and e.g. These are commonly confused despite their distinct meanings, so I agree it’s time to give these another go.

‘I.e.’ is the abbreviation of the Latin, ‘id est,’ meaning ‘that is.’ You should use ‘i.e.’ when you are restating a previous statement. When you use’ i.e.,’ you are not providing an example but you are clarifying a statement by restating it or providing more specificity. When you can substitute the words ‘that is’ for ‘i.e.,’ you are using the abbreviation correctly.

Our purpose in evaluating outcomes is to determine whether our students are learning what we are teaching ( i.e., whether they are acquiring the required skills).

Our purpose in evaluating outcomes is to determine whether our students are learning what we are teaching, that is, whether they are acquiring the required skills.

Actually, depending on what you are writing, substituting the words ‘that is’ for the abbreviation ‘i.e.’ is probably preferable. It avoids any possibility of confusing ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’ and has the further virtue of being straight forward and simple. Remember, we are striving toward clarity and grace.

As for ‘e.g.,’ it is the abbreviation for the Latin, ‘exempli gratia,’ which means ‘for example,’ and that is what ‘e.g.’ does: it introduces a set of examples. If you can replace ‘e.g.’ with ‘for example’ or ‘for instance,’ you are using ‘e.g.’ properly.

This program will help our trainees plan for the activities they need to undertake as part of their career development (e.g., looking for funding, writing papers, writing grants, responding to RFAs).

This program will help our trainees plan for the activities they need to undertake as part of their career development, for example, looking for funding, writing papers, writing grants, responding to RFAs.

The examples which follow ‘e.g.’ are representative and not all inclusive. If they were all inclusive, ‘i.e.’ or ‘that is’ would be called for.

She has been practicing writing the first five letters of the alphabet, e.g., a, b, c, d, and e. WRONG

She has been practicing writing the first five letters of the alphabet, i.e., a, b, c, d, and e. RIGHT

‘I.e.’ is correct in this example because the letters are not a representative sample, but the complete set. If the sentence had not referred to just the first five letters of the alphabet, ‘e.g.’ would have been correct because a-e are a representative sample.

She has been practicing writing the letters of the alphabet, e.g., a, b, c, d, and e. RIGHT

Please note, in the US, both of these abbreviations should be followed by a comma. I see lots of documents in which the comma is missing in action. Let’s make sure it makes an appearance where needed.

Finally, let me conclude this tip by addressing one more Latin abbreviation. “Etc.” is Latin for ‘et cetera,’ which means ‘and other things.’

You would never use ‘etc.’ with ‘i.e.’ because ‘i.e.’ introduces an all inclusive list and there is no need to refer to others.

You would never use ‘etc.’ with ‘e.g., because ‘e.g.’ already refers to an incomplete representative list and, thus, referring to other things would be redundant

In fact, I would go so far as to say, you should never use ‘etc.’ at all. it is a weak and vague abbreviation. (Fowler uses words like “amateurish and slovenly” to describe it.) To me, it feels as if the writer did not have the energy or knowledge to complete the sentence properly. When you are stuck and are about to use ‘etc.,’ substitute ‘and others’ instead. At least it sounds a little more polished.

Tip 2: Going forward

I was in a meeting last week, and I heard a colleague muttering something about hating the expression, ‘going forward.’ That’s interesting, I thought, I had never given it much thought, but this was a much admired and respected colleague, so I thought I would look into it.

Yikes. Although I was unaware of it, there is and has been an uproar over the use of ‘going forward,’ and quite a vociferous uproar it is.

[NOTE: Before I continue with this discussion, I have to make a confession. When I was writing the last sentence, I started to write “Unbeknownst to me…” It seemed to me very natural, but as I wrote it, I couldn’t help but think that it sounded vaguely like ‘amongst’ and ‘amidst’ and the other ‘st’ words I was ranting about last week. So I looked it up, and oh yes, it falls into that category, so I CUT IT OUT. Oops. I mean, I cut it out. My bad.]

Back to going forward.

A New York Times sports copy editor picked ‘going forward’ as the cliché of 2009, using the criteria: It has to be “essentially meaningless, exhaustively overused, and I have to really really hate it.”

“Going forward’ was fourth on a list of most hated clichés based on an on-line poll.

The pronouncement, “New rule: No more ‘going forward'” turned up on a CNET news blog.

One writer blogged, “Going forward is one of those intensely annoying bits of office-speak that have spread like Swine ‘flu into the public domain.”

The BBC headlined an article, ” Going forward let’s incentivize people to stop the jargon!”

A political blog, talking about business jargon, says this: “Currently the most pervasive and pernicious example is ‘going forward.'”

Patricia O’Connor, author of Woe is I, had this to say about going forward: “It allows the speaker or writer to get across a very banal idea (“sometime in the future”) without committing himself to such an empty phrase. Instead, he can substitute one that’s even emptier but sounds trendy and authoritative.”

You get the idea. Although I found loads of people complaining about the expression, I found no one defending it.

So, how did this expression come to be? I haven’t been able to find anyone taking credit for it. From what I can tell, it started in the business world and quickly moved to the political arena and then to the world of journalism.

The Oxford University Press provides these examples of the expression’s use in business:

We have a very solid financial position going forward.

They have concerns about the business going forward.

What’s the outlook for the economy going forward?

The strategy going forward is still undecided.

The risks facing the business going forward have been reduced.

We expect growth going forward to slow significantly.

He notes that, going forward, inflation will rise.

Going forward, we need to have a real plan.

President Obama seems to be a big fan of the expression. These are all quotes from his speeches that I found on a blog:

Going forward, we cannot tolerate the same old boom and bust economy of the past.

Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course.

Going forward, we can make a difference on several fronts.

And going forward, we can build a lasting relationship founded upon mutual interests and mutual respect as Iraq takes its rightful place in the community of nations.

Going forward, my administration will continue to consult closely with Congress and with our allies as we deploy this system.

The biggest concern that I have moving forward is that the toll that job losses take on individual families and communities can be self-reinforcing.

Going forward means ‘in the future,’ but it seems to also have a hint of ‘forget the past.’ I agree with my colleague that it brings nothing to the table. In fact, deleting it from all of the examples, does not result in a loss of meaning but rather stronger sentences. After giving it some consideration, my recommendation is that, going forward, we should eliminate ‘going forward.’

If you want to read more on the subject, I came across an amusing article by a columnist who was hoping to ban the use of ‘going forward’ but gave up. The column is called: Are you going forward? Then stop now . <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7453584.stm>

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