Grammar Tips - Abbreviations

WORKING WITH WORDS

Abbreviate!

Maybe because summer is arriving and I’m regretting that in my California youth when I had the figure, I didn’t have the confidence to wear a bikini, or maybe because I saw the news clip about the thieves who disguised themselves by wearing women’s thong underwear as face masks—maybe that’s why I’m thinking of abbreviations. I’m not talking text messaging here; I haven’t tackled that one yet.

    Honestly, I do not usually find the refinements of grammar of conversational interest, but the definitions of i.e. and e.g actually came up at a meeting with friends. So here’s to clarify—i.e. stands for id est which means “that is.” We’d use that when we want to explain or clarity something just stated. The davenport, i.e. sofa, was the centerpiece of a 1950s living room.  E.g. stands of exempli gratia which means “for example.” “Different terms for sofa have had regional popularity, e.g. the word ‘davenport’ was used in the Midwest especially in the 1930s-1950s.”

    Here are some others that may trip you up. Et al. stands for et allii, meaning “and others.” Because the al. is an abbreviation, the period belongs. The “others” are people and not things: Molly, Millie, Maggie, et al. wore bikinis to the beach. Etc. stands for etcetera meaning “and other things” and is never used with people, only with things. The women carried towels, frisbies, suntan oil, etc. in canvas totes.

    If you’re old enough to remember addressing envelopes by hand, you may be old enough to recall when addresses had postage zones rather than ZIP codes and states had three letter abbreviations. In this bygone era, we learned the proper abbreviations of states in fifth grade when we also memorized the state capitals. Never one to pass up an opportunity, I’ll remind you that capital is the city and capitol is the building. A good mnemonic device on that one is to let the o remind you of the capitol’s dome. Back to the abbreviations of states. Instead of the two-letter postal abbreviation, many editors and writers prefer the use of the three-letter abbreviations in bibliographies and resumes. In listing a publication, I would write:  Millin, Peggy. Mary’s Way. Berkeley, Cal.: Celestial Arts, 1990.

    Bibliographies and resumés should, above all things, be consistent in form. If you use the 3-letter abbreviation in one place, do it all the way through. It is important to follow the setup, spacing, type, and punctuation conventions set out in a style manual for these lists for two reasons: 1) ease of reading and 2) to show readers, prospective employers, agents, etc. that YOU are a woman who cares about the details and gets it right. When I hired teachers and selected graduate students, a properly executed resume won out over a sloppy one, other factors being equal.

    Periods are omitted from some abbreviations these days. They’ve been dropped from academic degrees, eg. AB, MA, PhD, DMin, etc.  but kept with titles like Mr., Mrs., Ms., Rev.,  and Dr.  Noun forms of abbreviations are all uppercase, HIV, VP, CEO, while adverbial forms are lowercase, rpm, mpg. More than that is probably more than you or I want to carry around in our cerebral cortex. As always, when in doubt, look it up!

Peggy Tabor Millin    Copyright 2008

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