Some remain common, and are useful to know for that reason. Others have fallen out of favor (especially since computer word processing makes a few unnecessary). However, without knowing some Latin abbreviations, following citations in older books can get very confusing.
Some of the More Common Latin Literary Terms:
- P.S.: This stands for post scriptum, literally "written after." From this comes the name of a note at the end of a letter, the postscript.
- etc.: Most people know et cetera ("and the rest"), although this handy phrase is sometimes mispronounced (like "ek-setra") or used incorrectly (like the redundant "and etc.").
- e.g.: This is short for exempli gratia, or "for example" (literally, "for the sake of example"). Sometimes, e.g. is confused with i.e. (id est), or "that is." It helps to keep in mind that e.g. is usually more general, while i.e. is more specific. ("The galaxy has many yellow stars, e.g., Sol, i.e., our Sun" – Sol being Latin for Sun.)
- non seq.: Non sequitur means "it does not follow," used to identify conclusions that don't make sense. A defective argument can even be called a non sequitur.
- N.B.: This is short for the Latin imperative Nota bene, or "Note well." It's used to mark an important point to remember.
- sc., scil.: Both these abbreviations stand for scilicet, and adverb meaning "namely"; scilicet itself is a contraction of scire licet, or "it is permitted to know."
- viz.: This is short for videlicet, "you may see," but is better translated as "that is to say" or "namely."
- cf.: Confer is the imperative of conferre, meaning "bring together." In citations, confer is used in the sense of "compare."
- ex lib.: An abbreviation of ex libris, this means "from the books (of ...)." This still appears in bookplates that tell whose library the book belongs to.
- ibid.: Ibidem means "in the same place." It's often used when referring more than once in a row to the same source, to avoid writing out the whole citation.
- loc. cit.: Short for loco citato, which means "in the work (previously) cited." Related to ibid., loc. cit. is used when a different part of the same work is cited, but the work itself is the same, and therefore does not need to be written out completely.
- A.D.: This is short for Anno Domini, or "in the year of (our) Lord" – not, as some believe, "after (Christ's) death." Strictly speaking, A.D. should appear before the year (e.g., "This edifice built A.D. 1926"). In practice, though, it usually comes after.
- c.: Short for circa, or "around." Used to signal dates that are uncertain.
- fl. Short for floruit, "he (or she) flourished," or lived. It's used to approximate dates when historical figures were most active.
- QED: It's no surprise that Quod erat demonstrandum ("That which was to be proved") is usually shortened. QED is a convenient abbreviation to put at the end of a completed proof.
Knowledge of such Latin terms is certainly needed to decipher the notes of scholars and other literary professionals, just as it is essential in law. Yet Latin terms are also convenient for anyone wishing to write shorthand and still be understood. After all, the ancient Romans knew that verb sap – a word to the wise is enough.