Code Word: Confusing (Latin Citational Words Defined)

I advocate ditching medieval-style caps and gowns and returning to the toga virilis forthwith.

For hundreds of years, learned people of the Western world were usually taught Latin.  Contemporary scholars, however, are not often so (un?)lucky.  For readers and writers of footnotes and bibliographies, this can lead to no little confusion, especially if you’re a historian dealing with sources written in previous centuries.  Here’s a cheat sheet to help you out with a few commonly found but hard-to-translate terms.

et al.: This means et alia, or “and others” (CMoS, 16th ed., 10.43)  In footnotes, this is used in the place of the names of multiple authors.  List the first, then add et al.  In the bibliography, list everyone up to ten authors.  If the source has more than ten, list the first seven, then add et al. (14.76).  Note that “al.” is an abbreviation, so it requires that period.  “Et” is a whole word, so it does not.

ibid.: This is the abbreviation of ibidem, meaning “in the same place” (10.43).  It’s used when you’re too lazy to write out all the information you used in the previous footnote.  It replaces as much of the previous information as is identical, but for clarity’s sake shouldn’t be used if the previous footnote contains more than one source (14.29).

id.: Guess what?  Just to make things confusing, there’s another abbreviated Latin term, extremely similar to ibid., meaning a very similar thing, that you shouldn’t use!  The abbreviation of idem, “the same” (10.43), is “id.”  It replaces an author’s name in a successive footnote.  Unless you’re writing legal copy, avoid this . . . but now at least you know what it means (14.30)!

loc. cit.: This is an abbreviation of loco citato, “in the place cited” (14.43).  It’s used to replace a work’s title, but not its author, in a footnote (e.g., Rothschadl, loc. cit., 942).  Unlike ibid., it could refer to any old preceding footnote at all (not just the directly preceding footnote).  It’s out of date and confusing, and CMoS argues that it should be avoided (14.31).

op. cit.: This, clearly, is loc. cit’s cousin, and is the shortened form of opere citato, or “in the work cited” (14.43).  It’s used exactly like loc. cit., and it should be avoided for the same reasons.

And finally, a note applying to all of the above: Since these are words in English (though borrowed directly from Latin), no need to italicize any of them (7.52, 7.53).  When in doubt on this score, check Merriam-Webster’s.

How to Spell Your Degree (A Posting for the Rest of Us)

[Unidentified graduating cadet in military tro...

Ah, the time-honored tradition of preposterous haberdashery. (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

I’ve already posted about how to properly capitalize and punctuate “PhD.”  But what about the rest of us folks who have gone to college but weren’t quite ready to spend another five to seven years doing homework?  What’s the proper way to discuss our comparatively humble college and graduate degrees?*

Don’t worry, folks, The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) has the answers that you’ve spent four (and possibly another two) years burning for.

If you’ve finished graduate school with a terminal MA, you may be correctly said to have obtained a master’s degree (8.28).  The technical name of your degree is master of art (10.2), which is abbreviated MA, as per CMoS‘s rules regarding abbreviations ending in capital letters (10.4)

If you’ve finished college, you’d received a BA (bachelor of arts) or a BS (bachelor of science).  Note the correct spelling of “bachelor” here, because it’s a tricky one (10.20).  You can also say you have a bachelor’s degree.

Note: AM (artium magister, the Latin term for “master of arts”), SB (scientiae baccalaureus, or “bachelor of science”), and AB (artium baccalaureus, or “bachelor of arts”) are insufferably priggish but technically correct.  But then, if you’re the sort of person who wants a Latin-sounding degree, I suggest that you just go ahead and get a PhD (philosophiae doctor, “doctor of philosophy”) anyhow.

*Admittedly, in 2009 the US Census Bureau reported that only 28% of Americans had received at least a bachelor’s degree, so the whole power-to-the-people theme of this posting is pretty specious.  (Camille L. Ryan and Julie Siebens, Educational Attainment in the United States: 2009, Bureau of the Census (Washington, DC, 2012; obtainable online here).

So You Want to Hire an Editor: A Guide to Pleasant Relations

So you want to hire an editor?  Great!  Give us all your money!

But before you do, make it a rewarding experience on both ends by carefully considering, and communicating, what you want him or her to do.  From traumas and pratfalls of various sorts, I’ve gleaned some wisdom about the process.  In early e-mails, I suggest you do the following:

1. Carefully describe what you (or your advisor, or your publisher) want done.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  The range of what clients want—from virtual ghostwriting to shallow grammar checks—would amaze you.  Delineating your expectations will save you much potential conflict and/or disappointment.

2. Explain the scope of the project.  Don’t engage an editor for a single chapter, then keep sending him surprise additions.  This will not go well for you, and it will be even worse on the editor’s end.  This includes things that might happen (as in, “I’m not sure I can finish the introduction in time, but I might send it along just before the deadline”).

3. Explain the project’s audience.  Writing for your dissertation committee differs substantially from writing for a journal (despite rumors to the contrary, judging by the number of unedited chapters sent to academic journals).  And both differ drastically from undergraduate textbooks, scholarly books, works for the general public, and so on.  The nationality of your expected audience, if you already know your venue, can also make a big difference.

4. Point out your weaknesses.  This can be hard to admit at times, but better to ‘fess up from the beginning than to surprise your editor.  She will respect you more.  And be nicer about correcting consistent problems if she knows you’re nervous.

5. Set explicit deadlines.  If you just airily say, “Whenever!”, you will be taken advantage of.  We editors are busy people, and we receive enough urgent projects that you will be put on the back burner.  Also, a clear deadline makes it far easier for the editor to plan (her work, her life, her whatever).

There’s enough confusion in the world.  We editors don’t like confusion.  That’s why we edit it away.  Help us help you!

My Kingdom for a Synonym!

We’ve all got words that our minds just seem to get stuck on, for no apparent reason and with no apparent cure.  A thousand-word essay that I edited this spring used the word “comprise” three times.  Incorrectly.*  In interpersonal conversation, I lean on “genuinely” to express a strong feeling far too often (example: “I genuinely think that we need to buy more toilet paper”).  The poor dope in the Kids in the Hall sketch above uses “ascertain,” then jumps to “delineate.”  What are your unfortunate obsessions?

*The whole comprises the parts.  The parts do not comprise the whole.

Arcane Vocabulary: Sapient

According to Merriam-Webster’s online edition, this means “possessing or expressing great sagacity,” and I have to say, you know you’re in trouble when you have to look up words in the definition to understand the original word.  “Sagacity” is, basically, being a really good judge, or being discerning.  But anyhow, “sapient” (SAY-pee-ent) should be familiar from the term “Homo sapiens,” literally meaning “wise man.”

That’s right, early white dude, show us your sagacity! Knap that flint!

The Dreaded Postedit Discussion

Skype Technologies S.A. logo

Skype Technologies S.A. logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Butterflies in your stomach about facing your client (or, from the other direction, your editor)?  Here’s a secret: use Skype.  Files these days are usually swapped by e-mail, but this is worth the extra time.  One of my clients introduced me to the wonders of discussing writing over Skype, and it’s a really terrific tool.  Aside from being reasonably easy, and free, it allows both sides to avoid ruffled feathers thanks its restoration of two old-fashioned aspects of communication: tone of voice and facial expression.  But here’s the best part: you can share screens!  That saves a lot of time when you’re discussing the details of a long, complicated manuscript.