A reader has asked me about my use of the abbreviation Ex.
Does [Ex.] mean ‘for example’? I’ve only known one abbreviation and that’s ‘eg’. If that is the case can you please explain where eg came from?
Sometimes I use Ex. to mean “for example” or “an example.” Sometimes I spell out “for example.” And when I’m feeling academic, I use e.g. to introduce a list of examples.
E.g. is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase exempli gratia, “for the sake of example.”
In US usage, a comma always follows the abbreviation, but in British usage, a comma after e.g. is optional.
In this article, e.g. is written in italics because I’m writing about it. In normal use, the abbreviation is written in roman type: e.g.
In the old days, before handy Latin shortcuts were perceived as “elitist and discriminatory, “writers threw in e.g. without restriction. Nowadays, style guides impose limitations.
The Chicago Manual of Style advises that if e.g. is used in “running text,” it should be “confined to parentheses or notes.”
Writing in 1926, Fowler (Modern English Usage) didn’t put any restrictions on the use of e.g., but in 1965, his editor, Ernest Gowers, added this advice:
[The abbreviation e.g.] should be reserved for footnotes or very concise writing; in open prose it is better to write “for example.”
The most unkindest cut of all regarding the use of e.g. and its ilk came to my attention in 2008 when I read an article in the London Telegraph about a movement in Britain to purge English of such long-established Latin shortcuts:
Local authorities have ordered employees to stop using [Latin terms] on documents and when communicating with members of the public and to rely on wordier alternatives instead.
The terms to be dropped in official documents included bona fide, ad lib, etc., ad hoc, i.e., per se, quid pro quo, vice versa, via, and status quo.
Among the replacement recommendations were “existing condition” or “state of things” for status quo, and “for this special purpose” in place of ad hoc.
Here’s the rationale offered by Bournemouth Council:
Not everyone knows Latin. Many readers do not have English as their first language so using Latin can be particularly difficult.
ESL learners shouldn’t have more difficulty than Latinless native speakers when it comes to learning the traditional Latin shortcuts. All they have to do is look them up in an English dictionary.
However, we live in an age that bows before ignorance. Governing authorities and schools seem to feel that eliminating “hard words” is more desirable than taking the trouble to teach them.
As for my use of the abbreviations e.g. and Ex., the only time I choose e.g. is in running text to introduce a short list of things or people to illustrate a concept:
I especially love the nineteenth-century novelists, e.g., Herman Melville, Mrs. Gaskill, and George Eliot.
And I don’t always put the e.g. bit in parentheses.
The Difference Between e.g. and i.e.?
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