You might think that ie and eg, being abbreviations for the Latin phrases id est and exempli gratia respectively, would be acceptable in French, which is simply Very Late Latin. You would be wrong. The French style site Points de langue has a page on the topic, pointing out that French already has perfectly good, and transparent, abbreviations “« c.-à-d. », qui se prononce « c’est-à-dire »” and “« p. ex.”, qui se prononce « par exemple ».” Why import two others, along with the controversies over how to write them (with or without spaces and periods) and the uncertainty over how to pronounce them (in English, “eye ee” and “ee gee” or “that is” and “for example”)? The answer, apparently, is “pour paraître dans le goût anglo-saxon.” La Grande Rousse, from whom I got the link (and who is back from hiatus, hurray!) is standing, as always, on the barricades, trying to stem the anglocentric tide.


  1. If you ask me, not that anyone ever has, “ie” and “eg” are only abbreviations for Latin in a strictly etymological sense.
    Having thus inaugurated the study of the phenomenon of Lexified Abbreviates, I will add that Swedish “bh” (pronounced “behå” like the letters) meaning “bra” (itself an LA, as I shall now call them – how many “teen”s know that this is short for something, never mind what? ) is derived from “bysthållare”, but the latter is effectively defunct.
    Also the Dutch tourist board is called “VVV” and my Dutch tutor (-book) insisted that nobody has the least idea what it stands for. And quite right too.

  2. > (in English, “eye ee” and “ee gee” or “that is” and “for example”)
    The prescriptivist in me jumps up to assert that “eye ee” and “ee gee” are not proper in spoken English. Similarly that “viz.” should always be pronounced, “namely”.

  3. And here’s an interesting question: why is “etc.” pronounced “etcetera” instead of “and so forth”?

  4. When it’s not pronounced “ekt,” that is. That is an interesting question. Possibly because there isn’t one clear English realization; you could say “and so forth,” “and so on,” “and the like,” &c &c. But why does everyone know the Latin when nobody knows it for ie and eg?

  5. The correct pronunciation of etc. is exetra. Also, i.e. means “for example,” and e.g. means “that is,” (there really is no difference anyway.).
    Sorry, pet peeves ;) (exetra does happen to be a real Latin word though…)

  6. exetra does happen to be a real Latin word though
    It’s not in LSJ or the Oxford dictionary; what does it mean?

  7. I assume that you, Mr. Hat, or someone in your circle of a prescriptivist bent has already posted/muttered under the breath/screamed at the walls about the fact the many folks these days seem to use “i.e.” for “e.g.” But never vice versa, at least not that I’ve noticed.

  8. Do you pronounce & as “and” or as “et”? I’ve seen it written &cet.

  9. Zackary: I try to adopt an attitude of resigned acceptance, bearing in mind that people cannot be expected to be consistent in their usage of what is, after all, a foreign and opaque formula. But sometimes I scream at the walls (quietly, so as not to disturb the neighbors).
    Jonathan: I say “etcetera” for &c but “and” for & — except in proofreading aloud, where the convention is to say “et” (a convention that greatly pleases me, though not as much as “bang” for !).

  10. My pronunciation of “viz.” has always been “to wit.”
    Lately I’ve been trying to rid my prose of all of these, though. Not out of any notion of linguistic purity — English’s purity will always have to be of “the heart of gold” kind, not the virginal kind — but because I think those little abbreviations are ugly on the page.

  11. Sorry, try excetra .

  12. Aha: ‘a water snake; a spiteful or malignant woman.’ You know, if you’d use the restored pronunciation, we wouldn’t have these problems.

  13. But the French use “et cetera” every now and then, don’t they? (I have also come across “et cétéra.) This lovely latinism was once common in well-mannered Russian writing. I don’t know whether it was to be pronounced the Russian-Latin way (эт цЭтэра) or the French way, but this bit from Pushkin’s Граф Нулин suggests the latter:
    Себя казать, как чудный зверь,
    В Петрополь едет он теперь
    С запасом фраков и жилетов,
    Шляп, вееров, плащей, корсетов,
    Булавок, запонок, лорнетов,
    Цветных платков, чулков à jour,
    С ужасной книжкою Гизота,
    С тетрадью злых карикатур,
    С романом новым Вальтер-Скотта,
    С bon-mots парижского двора,
    С последней песней Беранжера,
    С мотивами Россини, Пера,
    Et cetera, et cetera.
    By now, all the handy Latin expressions have fallen into disuse and sound eccentric in modern writing. Thus, Russian has и т.д. instead of “et cetera” (и т.д. и т.п. = and so on, and so forth); напр. instead of e.g., там же instead of ibid., те же instead of id., т.е. instead of “id est”, and so on.
    I would support the legalization of м.б. for может быть (perhaps, maybe). Suprisingly, бюстгальтер did not degenerate into БГ (the initials of a cult Russian songwriter/performer, by which he is known). I’ve always enjoyed the parallel between “büstenhalter” and “stadthalter”, or, since I have William of Orange in mind, “bustenhouder” and “stadhouder”.

  14. A bravura comment, leaping from bras to Boris Grebenshchikov to William of Orange in a single bound. Molodets!

  15. You know, if you’d use the restored pronunciation, we wouldn’t have these problems.
    On the contrary, I do use restored pronunciation, and that’s exactly why I keep spelling that word wrong- the word play I’m trying to make doesn’t really work unless you use the traditional English pronunciation, or drop the c. But I’ve really got to stop misspelling that, since I often bring it up to nipick others ;)

  16. Does “restored pronunciation” mean “exketera”?

  17. (that is to say, “exketra”)?

  18. It does indeed.

  19. The correct pronunciation of etc. is et cetera, not eksetera. These are likely the same idiots that mispronounce asterisk (asteriks) and espresso (expresso).
    On a different subject, when did people start misspelling definitely “definately”? The dumbing-down of the world continues.

  20. It’s not dumbing-down, although that does occur. Dialects and language as a whole progress and evolve in order to reflect the times. If it didn’t, speakith like this thou art would.

  21. I’m french guy, and looking for some explanation about ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’ I see everywhere those times, I found this page. And now I’d like say a few things :
    - i.e. and e.g. are not french at all, though we can see them popping around in many scientific texts and reports, because both the writers and the audience may be non-native french speakers, and do not know about ‘cad’ and ‘p.ex.’. Languagehat is absolutely right on this point
    - we do not use ‘etc’ every now and then (it’s mainly used in politics when you want to describe something that does not exist, and hence you give one example and say ‘etc’ because you cannot actually find more)
    - in french -I don’t know about the other languages- ‘etc’ is pronounced ‘eksetera’, which we could call ‘dyslexie’ (I cannot find english for this :), but has been so deeply engraved in our minds that it’s THE way it should be pronounced (try to say ‘et caetera’, with the correct latin pronounciation, and everybody will laugh at you)

  22. Hi, tibo! Thanks very much for your comment; that information about how people actually pronounce “etc” is exactly the kind of thing you don’t get from dictionaries.

  23. I live and study in Montreal where I hear French spoken by immigrants from all francomonde countries, including France and other European countries, Arab, African and of course, the notorious Québécois. Tibo, I think YOU’RE dyslexic in written and spoken forms (and maybe have research disabilities online or on paper–how can it be possible for you to not find the word in English!? Just tell me HOW?!), or maybe you are surrounded by illiterate people? I have NEVER heard Etcetera pronounced as eksetera by any educated person. The only ones who do are the few who aren’t so sharp in their linguistic capacities that Phil mentioned who also say expresso, asterix, nukuler (e.g., former US president Bush Jr.). Or Tibo–are you just trying to troll and confuse us non-native French users even more?
    All the French (from France and everywhere else) professors and colleagues I’ve ever had say et shetera :)
    That would be the one difference: not et cetera like in English but the SH not the t-k debate :)
    Love, Spelling Anal-ist

  24. French people, even the most erudite, do say “ex cétéra”. I was shocked when I first came to France, but now I say it this way myself and would be surprised if somebody makes the correct pronunciation.

  25. Very interesting, I’m glad to know that!

  26. marie-lucie says:

    I say etsétéra.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    I have heard eksétéra from not very literate persons, but NEVER etchétéra. Perhaps the people that say the latter grew up in Catholic institutions which used the Italian pronunciation of Latin. But they would be the minority.

  28. I’ve heard /ek’setrə/ or /ɪk’setrə/ from native speakers of English educated at the best universities on either side of the Atlantic (and Down Under, for that matter), including eminent linguists. I’ve heard /’nukjələr/ mostly from George W. Bush Jr. and Homer Simpson. Their shibboleth value is definitely not the same.

    Perhaps “tibi” means the way the Romans of the Golden Age really pronounced et caetera, which was /ɛt ‘kaɪtɛra/, more or less (/ɛt ‘kɛːtɛra/ would have done in relaxed sermo quotidianus).

  29. Sorry, “tibo”, not “tibi”.

  30. I’ve heard /’nukjələr/ mostly from George W. Bush Jr. and Homer Simpson.

    Also Jimmy Carter and native speakers of English educated at the best universities. I find the shibboleth value equal (i.e., for me, nonexistent).

  31. I’m not so sure with Jimmy Carter. If you listen to him here, it sounds more like he’s saying [ˈnuːkjə]. I think that rather than engaging in the “nuclear”>”nucular” reanalysis, he’s compressed the word to a bisyllabic /ˈnuːk.ljə/ and then smoothed the /lj/ to [j], in the same way that “million” often ends up as [ˈmɪjən].

  32. That may well be.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    On Language Log it was once suggested that “nookular” perhaps represented reanalysis as newkiller, and that this hypothesis could be tested by waiting if W turned circular into sirkiller. Sadly, him using that word never came to pass…

  34. I find the shibboleth value equal (i.e., for me, nonexistent).

    Hurrah! Down with shibboleths!

  35. David Marjanović says:

    Allegedly, nookular is a mark of Pentagon insiders.

  36. After four years of use, I noticed that the Russian menu on our coffee machine says “кофе экспрессо.” It’s understandable: экспресс and its derivatives are as common in Russian as in English (поезд-экспресс, экспресс-анализ, экспрессия, экспрессивный). It’s as inevitable as грейпфрукт instead of the correct грейпфрут.

    But whence ex cetera? Could it be a shibboleth of a different kind, originating from academic circles — as a deliberate contamination, as a mockery of poor Latinists, or in eternal commemoration of some great professor’s slip? Or some in-group joke that went viral? At first, only those in the know could appreciate it; once exoterized, the intended meaning was lost?

    On a side note, can anyone quote a verse or a song with “et cetera,” however pronounced?

  37. David Marjanović says:

    But whence ex cetera?

    [ks] in front of a vowel occasionally happens in English. [ts] never does.

    Conversely, the Luxembourg dynasty of kings of Bohemia has ended up as Lucemburský.

Speak Your Mind