October 14, 2010

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Etc., i.e., and e.g.& coequal or equal

Posted in coequal/equal, e.g./i.e., etc. at 8:18 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Etc., e.g., and i.e. reprised

Although we have discussed this in the past, a recent review of grant proposals indicates that there is still confusion about when to use e.g. and when to use i.e. so I thought I would recap this topic.

Let’s start with e.g.

E.g. is the abbreviation for the Latin words, exempli gratia, and means ‘for example,’ literally, ‘for the sake of example’ and is used when you are going to provide examples of what you have been talking about.

Barriers address issues of convenience, availability, and characteristics of depression, e.g., low energy and low motivation.

If you can replace the abbreviation with ‘for example’ or ‘such as,’ then you should use e.g.:

Barriers address issues of convenience, availability, and characteristics of depression, for example, low energy and low motivation.

E.g. is telling you that, in this example, low energy and low motivation are characteristics of depression, but they are just SOME of the characteristics, not all of them.

If you can remember that the e stands for exempli, and exempli looks much like and means example, you will always use e.g. correctly.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you use e.g., don’t end the list of examples, with etc. which is from the Latin et cetera and means ‘and the others.’ Remember, using e.g. is saying ‘these are just some examples; there are others..’ So putting etc. at the end, to say ‘and others’ would be redundant.

Okay, on to i.e.

I.e. stands for the Latin, id est, which means ‘that is,’ and it is used when you are going to re-state something in other words or provide more specificity, that is, list everything that you have been talking about.

You would use it the same way that you would use ‘that is.’ For instance, in the above sentence, I used ‘that is’ to introduce a phrase that provided another way of stating ‘provide more specificity.’ I could have used i.e. instead, as in:

I.e. stands for the Latin, id est, which means ‘that is,’ and it is used when you are going to re-state something in other words or provide more specificity, i.e., list everything that you have been talking about.

This is a little confusing because I am using the same words for different purposes. Let me try another example.

To be eligible for the study, the individual must be the primary caregiver (i.e., provide the majority of care and is a spouse, significant other, offspring, parent, or sibling) to the patient.

Here’s another example:

Consistent with behavioral theory, researchers have suggested that motivation (i.e., pregnancy intention) is the most immediate determinant of fertility-related behaviors including contraceptive use.

And this:

I think that Americans would find the colors of the French flag to be very patriotic, i.e., the colors of the French flag are red, white, and blue.

In the first example, the i.e. phrase re-states the definition of the primary caregiver and also provides more specificity about what is entailed in being the primary caregiver. The i.e. phrase in the second example does the same for ‘motivation.’ In the third example, the i.e. phrase lists ALL of the colors of French flag, thus making it clear why Americans would find it to be patriotic.

I think of id est, ‘that is,’ when I use i.e. so I don’t confuse it with e.g.; however, my recommendation is to avoid the possibility of error and use ‘that is’ instead. It is clear, concise, and if you use it in error when you really mean e.g., you’ll know right away.

[NOTE: In this explanation, I occasionally started a sentence with the abbreviations. thus, I wrote I.e., E.g, and Etc., and they looked a little odd like that. Not to worry–in your writing, these abbreviations will always come in the middle of the sentence, and you will never have to contend with capitalization.]

Tip 2: Coequal or equal

A reader writes:

I was at a meeting this week where ‘coequals’ was frequently used – I wanted your feedback and exposition – is there a difference between equals and co-equals?

I have to admit, until I got this email, I was blissfully unaware of this travesty of a word.

However, when I began to research it, I found it is used quite often. and I have to ask, “Why?”

Most of the dictionaries define ‘coequal’ as ‘equal.’ Well, if it means ‘equal,’ why don’t we just use ‘equal’?

Most of my usual language authorities are silent on the subject of ‘coequal,’ presumably, because it is too silly to contemplate; however, Bryson and Garner came through for me, and both support my notion of coequal as a ‘needless variant’ as Fowler was wont to say about superfluous words.

Bryson says:

A generally fatuous term. Co- adds nothing to equal that equal doesn’t already say alone.

And Garner says:

Often means nothing that that equal does not also mean; it should be rejected in those contexts.

Of course, Garner goes on to say:

And while styles vary, it is best spelled without a hyphen.

Okay. So don’t use it, but if you do use it, spell it without a hyphen. Hmmm.

Regardless, I can’t think of a context where coequal brings more meaning and comprehension to a statement, and it is a word that we should avoid.

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