Hey, remember that discussion of how to pronounce pace ‘with due deference to’ or ‘despite’? It was fun and educational, right? Well, I’ve got another poll for those who occasionally say Latin words and phrases out loud: how do you say re ‘in the matter of, referring to’? And do you say it the same way in the phrase in re (same meaning)? I do, but apparently quite a few people don’t. (Sparked by this AskMetaFilter thread, which is actually about whether one should use a colon after re. Answer: yes in headings, otherwise no, as in Verbatim Summer 1979 “G. Bocca’s observations re public signs.”)


  1. ‘Ree’. I’ve never said, or heard, ‘in re’. Funny, I’d always thought ‘re’ was an English contraction of ‘regarding’, ‘in reference to’, etc.–never considered it was the Latin (which would of course be ‘ray’).

  2. I pronounce in re like English “in ray”, and I don’t use just re in speech (seems like strictly an abbreviation for memos and such); I suppose if I read a memo out loud I’d say “ray”.

  3. rootlesscosmo says

    California Family Law cases, when taken on appeal, are often captioned “In re marriage of” (parties’ name); lawyers I know pronounce this “in ray,” though the acronym IRMO is sometimes spoken as a word, pronounced ER-mo.

  4. ree, and in ree.

  5. I say ‘ree’, and never use the term ‘in re’.
    Although fully aware of its real heritage, I always think of ‘re’ as shorthand for ‘reply’, thanks to email usage (reply > RE:, forward > FW:), which represents *at least* 99.999% of my interactions with it.

  6. ‘Ray’ always, even when reading email headers aloud.

  7. I’m with Vasha on this. I wouldn’t use re by itself except as a label on a line in a memo or an e-mail, but I pronounce it like ‘ray’ both there and in in re.

  8. michael farris says

    Ree (rhymes with bee) in both cases.

  9. Arfer "50 øre" Crown says

    Ree for emails, and ray for ‘in’.
    It seems reasonable to have two pronunciations, to anglicize individual words that aren’t part of a Latin phrase. Unless I was very drunk I wouldn’t interject a French accent to say a phrase like ‘pass the menu‘, for example.
    It is odd, the uncomfortable feeling I (we?) get when a pronunciation I had taken for granted is ‘threatened’ by something different. I don’t like it; I think it is primitive, as if my tribe’s being challenged. Having now read the pace discussion I must say that I had never heard any other pronunciation than dill-a-TAN-tee until I crossed the Atlantic.

  10. I don’t use either in spoken language, but if I did I would say ‘ree’ and ‘in ree’. I’ve never heard anyone say ‘ray’ – that would feel pretentious.

  11. Ree and in ree.

  12. But per say, not per see.

  13. Laura Brown says

    I say “ray” in both cases, but my husband says “ree” (I’m American and he’s British, if that makes any difference).
    I would only ever say the word if I were reading something out loud.

  14. “Re” by itself I parse as English, so I pronounce it as “ree.” But in “in re” I would definitely pronounce it “in ray”–in the same way I would normally say “via” as an English preposition with a hard v, but when I come across a phrase like “via negativa” it’s suddenly pronounced “wee-a neg-a-tee-wa.”

  15. I guess I would say “ree” if I said it at all, because think of it as an abbreviation for “ree-garding.”

  16. David Harmon says

    I’m not a very good source for this, but I tend to pronounce it with an intermediate vowel, something like “rey”.

  17. In my experience, lawyers, judges, and court personnel all say “ray” for the former and “in ray” or “in the matter of” for the latter.

  18. I pronounce “re” as “ree” in English an “in re” as “in ray” in Latin.

  19. Fascinating! There appears to be a pretty even split, and (as I expected) there are a fair number who say it differently with and without in—which on the face of it is surprising, but apparently the phrase is felt to be more “foreign” than the word in isolation. (I say “ree” in both cases, but then I’m a hardcore devotee of Traditional Anglicized Latin.)
    Funny, I’d always thought ‘re’ was an English contraction of ‘regarding’, ‘in reference to’, etc.–never considered it was the Latin
    You shock me, Conrad. I shall have to withdraw the Order of Merit I awarded you after you corrected my Latinity.

  20. That’s funny, I’d never thought about the discrepancy before, but I read ‘re:’ as in a memo as ‘ree’ but ‘in re’ as “ray”. I studied Latin for three years in high school and usually notice incorrect anglicised prononciation.

  21. I don’t think I’ve ever said it, but I’ve found myself using it in print more and more.
    As a Dane with only four months of propaedeutic Latin under my belt, I’d say /rɛ/ (and /pɑkə/).

  22. “In ray”, and “ree”. The reason for me is that for the common use ‘re’ is used as simply a contraction of ‘regarding’, in legal use I see it as a foreign word and pronounce it as I would imagine it should be.

  23. I studied Latin for three years in high school and usually notice incorrect anglicised prononciation.
    Well, “ree” and “ray” are equally correct anglicized pronunciations (or incorrect, if you roll that way); the “correct” Latin pronunciation would be /re:/, with Italian-style /r/ and a long /e/ with no diphthongization as in English.

  24. Re is “ar-ee”, i.e. I read the letters by name. I find it odd that no one above has given this variant. For me, “RE” is an abbreviation of “Regarding”, and I won’t take no notions to the contrary.
    In re (and relatives, like in medias res) are clearly Latin, however, so in re is “in ray” and in medias res ends with “ress”.

  25. As far as I’m concerned, “re” is short for “regarding”, in which case it’s naturally pronounced the same as the first syllable of that word. (Maybe it’s back-etymology, or maybe it’s practical and reduces the likelihood that I’ll be either demonstrating my grammatical snobbiness or confusing my readers/listeners.)

  26. “ree”. But if I feel like teasing, I pronounce it “anent”.

  27. I’m obnoxious enough to pronounce “per se” as “Percy”, but not so obnoxious as to re-Latinize “ree” or “in ree” (the latter of which I’ve almost never spoken). I’m with JS Bangs in that “ar-ee” is an acceptable variant, widely used and understood.

  28. dearieme,
    and thus I learn a new praeposition. Just what is it with you Scots?

  29. Answering before I read the comments – I say it “ray” both times, though I don’t find myself using “re” very often in speech.

  30. mollymooly says

    “ree” and “in ray”. And “verbahtim”, not “verbaytim”. Irish people do Latin things up a bit, folk memory of the Tridentine Mass etc. I probably only say “ree” because my school principal did so when making intercom announcements.

  31. “Ray” for both, but I’m not sure that the “Re:” in e-mail subject lines is the same word. The “Subject:” part already means what “Re:” does in a memo — the e-mail “Re:” is added only in replies, so it’s presumably short for “reply”, so I might pronounce that “ree”.

  32. ree and in ray.
    But I’m now seriously disturbed about the pronunciation of the phrase “via negativa” thanks to Alixtii.

  33. “You shock me, Conrad. I shall have to withdraw the Order of Merit I awarded you after you corrected my Latinity.”
    Ha! I shall have to work double time to get it back.

  34. John Emerson says

    I think of “re” and “in re” as English words, borrowed from the Latin and spelled the same as the Latin, but nonetheless pronounced in English: “ree”. But I may never have used either in speech.
    If I heard “in ray” it would seem okay, but standing along only “ree” would sound right.
    But I don’t care.

  35. John Emerson says

    I think of “re” and “in re” as English words, borrowed from the Latin and spelled the same as the Latin, but nonetheless pronounced in English: “ree”. But I may never have used either in speech.
    If I heard “in ray” it would seem okay, but standing along only “ree” would sound right.
    But I don’t care.

  36. Hmm, I’ve never actually thought of pronouncing it. When I see it written, I automatically parse it as ‘regarding’ and if I were to say it out loud, I would say ‘regarding’ rather than ‘ray’ or ‘ree’.
    Good to know!

  37. “Ray” and “in ray”.

  38. . . . and I think I’ve pronounced them that way since before I knew they were Latin; so, apparently my brain thinks “re” should be pronounced “ray” in English. Maybe I associated it with the solfege syllable between “do” and “mi”, which I knew from The Sound of Music?

  39. Re and In ray
    But I never use re in conversation, only in reading aloud business correspondence, notes, or emails. I’ve always taken “Re:XXX to be an abbreviation for “reference” in business and email, for what that’s worth–and in fact, that’s all I ever seen it used as, whether in the heading or the body of the correspondence.
    In Re also appears in admiralty cases a lot (“In Re Insert-Ship’s-Name-Here). Since admiralty and marriage where once handled by the same set of courts and lawyers (vide Doctor’s Commons), it might be the usage derives from that link.
    My own rule of thumb in these cases is de gustibus. Well, actually, chacon a son gout, but since we’re focusing on Latin here….

  40. Ran, the solfege system was derived from a Latin hymn, so your association was not far off the mark.

  41. /ɹi/ and /ɪn ɹeɪ/

  42. I’d just want to add my vote to the few pah-kays in the last post. I believe I once looked this up in Random House Unabridged (probably after saying it for some reason while teaching), and that was the pronunciation given.

  43. “Ree” and “in ray”. Even though I know the derivation, I don’t think I’ve ever heard “Re:” pronounced “ray” in the sense of “Re: Your submission of 2 June”. On the other hand, “in re” is commonly used in law and, in my part of the woods, is always pronounced “in ray”.

  44. W. Kiernan says

    I never ever heard “pace” pronounced and always heard it in my head as “Pa say” (“My father says… [but I say…]”)

  45. I say “ree”. I’ve never seen “in re”.
    I’ve used “re” for a long time, before it ever became popular as Internet usage.
    The old meaning is “regarding”, but on the Internet my impression is that it has become reinterpreted as “in reply”. That is, under the original meaning you could use “re” from the beginning of a correspondence, but with Internet usage, I’m sure a lot of younger people think it should only be used when replying to the original message.

  46. I agree that “Re” means “in reply” in e-mail, whereas the old meaning was “regarding” in letters. Surely the developers of e-mail software must have been aware that “Re” was in use already. Why would they not have chosen to abbreviate “in reply” to something less ambiguous like “Rp”?

  47. I am fairly certain that the developers of email did not have in mind to abbreviate “reply” as “Re.” Rather, it was due to the classic business usage, “Dear Sir; [In] Re your letter of the 2nd inst[ant] …” alluded to above and maybe similar military usages.
    I admit that I don’t know this first hand, which is why I didn’t say so originally. But I have now unearthed my copy of Proceedings of the IFIP TC-6 International Symposium on Computer Message Systems, which I think supports this pretty well.
    RFC 808 is one of the last, if not the last, attempts to list every email system in use on the net; something that not even Wikipedia attempts today. The system I worked on, MM, is one of the youngest on the list.
    MM was developed as a replacement for MSG, the system most in use on TENEX in the late ’70s. I consciously copied MSG’s message formatting in MM’s reply and forward commands. And I always assumed that “Re: ” at the front of a reply was /ray/, like I said above.
    Note that in those days forwarded message subjects looked like “[User@host: Original subject]” and not today’s “FW: ” or “Fwd: “. So the fact that those are clearly abbreviations has no bearing on the question.
    Now that I have John Vittal’s “MSG: A Simple Message System” from the above proceedings, I have confirmed my recollection of thirty-odd years ago. The reply command in MSG wasn’t called Reply. It was called Answer. All the commands were single letters and R was Read, which read in a new file. So it’s unlikely to use an abbreviation for reply.
    I called the command Reply because the ULTCMD command processor wasn’t limited to single characters. (It was modeled after Jed Donnelley’s in LLL-RISOS’ RATS. I’m afraid the tcsh man page and Wikipedia are confused, but that’s something for another day.) But I wasn’t the first to do so by any means; it was generally reply by then.
    Everything I can find confirms that Vittal invented message replying as we know it today. Among other things, his paper says:

    The Answer command was one of the more complex, but the most important, additions to MSG. Not only was it the largest implementation task of any command in MSG, but given its complexity and number of alternatives, it became the hardest command to “get right” in the user-interface. For this reason, it was not included in the initial version. The current implementation of the operation was the third one developed, being the conceptually simplest and least invasive of the interfaces. It also was the one with the fewest options.

    On MM, it says:

    MM, for TENEX, was developed in response to the problem that MSG was no longer developing and did not provide the right level of message creation functionality. SNDMSG, the program MSG uses for all message creation functions, does not permit the editing of any field other than the text field, and then only while it is being specified.

    Which seems perfectly accurate to me.
    Craig Partridge’s “The Technical Development of Internet Email” (sometimes also available here) also confirms that Vittal was the inventor. So too Wikipedia and its sources, as much as they say anything.
    Vittal and Partridge also describe HERMES, a much more ambitious mail system for the DoD. We didn’t yet use the vocabulary of RMS’ movement, but in effect MM was partly an effort to develop some of HERMES’ capabilities in a free system.
    I can still run MM on TOPS-20 using the KLH-10 emulator running on Ubuntu in VirtualBox under Windows 7. (All of which is still faster than any machine of that day.) As far as I know, the binaries for MSG and HERMES don’t survive or no one has tried to get them to run on “hobbyist” systems.
    One last data point. In the same emulator I can also run ITS. The ITS mailer used “Re:” in its mail headers, which were originally much shorter than most other systems, with a single line giving the sender, date and subject. Here is the start of the file KSC;?ITEM RANDOM:

    KLH@MIT-AI 05/03/77 11:32:21 Re: Here’s the “history” you wanted…
    To: clj at MIT-MC, (FILE [ksc;?item random]) at MIT-MC

    (The file still has that creation date on it from when the mailer wrote it back then.)

  48. Now, that’s what I call thorough research!

  49. “[User@host: Original subject]”

    That’s what Mutt does still.

    BTW, now that I know who you are, it’s interesting to see that even back in RFC 808 days you were identified only as “MMcM@AI”.

  50. John Cowan says

    However, MMcM does appear under his full name in the Kermit documentation.

  51. I’ve never thought of re: in emails as meaning anything but “regarding”.

  52. LH is educational!

  53. And I see the immensely learned Conrad thought the same thing, as mentioned in the very first comment.

  54. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I picked up that Re: was from Latin in rē when I was but a tadpole (1985 or so). I don’t remember whence, though.

  55. David Marjanović says

    The interpretation of Re: in e-mail headers as reply, or indeed return and other instances of Latin re-, was probably facilitated by people who didn’t speak English natively, or at all. Until maybe 2010 or so, Re: for e-mail replies was international. Nowadays, e-mail software set to German will often produce Aw:, for Antwort “answer, response, reply”; those set to Italian use just R:, because ri-; those set to French keep Re :. Even in legalese, I’m not aware of in re, let alone just re, being used outside of English.

    The mentioned contrast with Fw(d): must also have played a role.

    Me, I used to think Re: was the Latin prefix that so many English words have.

  56. The interpretation of Re: in e-mail headers as reply (…) was probably facilitated by people who didn’t speak English natively

    Maybe, maybe not. What’s the timeline on 1) this tag in general, 2) the contrasting Fw:, Cc: tags, and 3) email clients multiplying tags over a discussion (the characteristic Re: Re: Re: Re: … buildup)? Was there ever a point where email clients inserted Re: also into the subject lines of conversation-opening emails?

  57. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I got my first email account (on Edition 7, possibly with the 2BSD addons) on September 11, 1984. (The date was not remarkable then, but the events of 17 years later makes it easy to remember. The account actually survived long enough for me to notice). utzoo!mcvax!odin!thorinn — well, I was a callow youth, but calling the machine odin was a fait accomplí when I got hired. (The other VAX-11 was freja, but I suspect the mail node name originally belonged to a PDP-11 running Edition 7).

    Anyway, I’m pretty sure that mail/mailx, (and later elm pine and Emacs) did add Re: to subject lines that didn’t have it when replying, and that was an informal standard — people expected their mail clients to do that. Pile-ups of Re: would have been a sign of low effort coding, and I’d probably have edited them down to one manually if I had time. (I18n broke that, your email client set to English would not recognize Aw: as equivalent to Re:, so you could get “Re: Aw: Re: Aw: Re: Aw: Re: Aw: Re: Aw: Re: Aw: Re: Aw: Lunch” when talking to a colleague with a different system language). I don’t remember ever seeing Cc: or Bcc: in a subject line, though it would make total sense if people actually cared about the distinction when sending replies, or even starters. (Fw: yes, but it’s not ubiquitous like Re: is).

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