Saturday, October 25, 2008

Latin and Science...English equivalents of Latin abbreviations

When Latin words, or other foreign words for that matter, are used in English or Standard American, they are italicized. Names of species and genera, for example, are italicized, e.g., Lactobacillus rhamnosis. Alternatively, such words may be underlined.

Often, students forget the spelling rules that apply to Latin names. The genus name is capitalized:Lactobacillus. The specific epithet is not: rhamnosis.

Many times in scientific (and other) writing, Latin abbreviations are used. For example, "et al," as found in the citation:
Delineation of HER2 Gene Status in Breast Carcinoma by Silver in Situ Hybridization is Reproducible among Laboratories and Pathologists. A. Carbone, G. Botti, A. Gloghini, G. Simone, M. Truini, M. P. Curcio, P. Gasparini, A. Mangia, T. Perin, S. Salvi, et al. (2008) J. Mol. Diagn. 10, 527-536
The following chart which is only slightly modified from the Mozilla Writer's Guide: accessed October 25, 2008, provides some helpful translations for Latin abbreviations.

Abbreviation Latin English/Standard American
cf. confer compare
e.g. exempli gratia for example
et al. et alii and others
etc. et cetera and so forth, and so on
i.e. id est that is, in other words
N.B. nota bene note well
P.S. post scriptum postscript

N.B. (Note well) Be careful not to confuse "e.g." (for example) with "i.e."(that is, in other words).

Historically, Linnaeus was the person who started us with the Latin genera and species names, reducing confusion and even preventing poisonings. (Click on the links for a pod cast and a word game on Linnaeus.) If you'd like to read more on Linnaeus, try writings by Linnaeus at the Linnaean Correspondence.

Enjoy using Latin in your scientific work. It is one thing that lets us know we are speaking of the same organism despite differences in our languages or differences in local names.

(c)J S Shipman 2008

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