“In Absentia” Used As An Adjective

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader has asked me to comment on the following uses of the Latin phrase in absentia (“in his/her absence”) in The Harvard Crimson:

Headline: FAS Relaxes In Absentia Rules
Text: Undergraduates studying abroad in spring 2007 will be able to take their fall exams early—if their instructors approve—rather than having to lug their books overseas for in absentia exams.

The reader feels that the phrase should not be used to describe a noun:

This usage looks incorrect to me. M-W describes [in absentia] only as an adverb.

Regardless of what it says in the dictionary, in absentia is often used as a qualifier in academic and legal contexts:

Fallows intended his in absentia program as a vehicle for reaching adults, not as an option for the conventional, youthful collegiate audience.

All degree requirements must be completed or in progress before the student can begin the in absentia graduation process.

The in absentia registration fee is $25.

If a defendant takes off during the pretrial phase, however, he may be able to elude an in absentia conviction.

In general usage, there’s no reason to use in absentia as anything but an adverb phrase:

The degree was conferred upon the deployed soldier in absentia.

The man was condemned in absentia.

The new program chairman was elected in absentia.

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2 Responses to ““In Absentia” Used As An Adjective”

  • Alan Sears

    Surely there is no need to use the expression ‘in absentia’ at all, except in a legal context? The expression ‘in his absence’ isn’t so shocking that it needs to be concealed in Latin.

  • Jake Marek

    As in Corporatese, abusing “in absentia” like this smacks of pseudo-intellectualism. It seems as though “absentee” would suffice, as in “All degree requirements must be completed or in progress before the student can begin the absentee graduation process.”
    That being said, instituting a new program and calling it the “In Absentia Program” (which STILL smacks of pseudo-intellectualism) might be preferable.

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