Sunday August 20th 2017
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Lick the Latin Tongue: I.E. + E.G. = WTF

I was sending a Business Guy email the other day and, for the briefest of moments, found myself wondering if I used the wrong Latin abbreviation.

The dreaded “Is it i.e. or e.g.” crisis.

There isn’t a great mnemonic device to lean on when it comes to these two. That pretty much leaves it up to memory and rapid web browsing.

For the record, here’s the difference:

  • i.e. = Latin for “id est,” or “that is.”
  • e.g. = Latin for “exempli gratia,” or “for the sake of an example.”

Here’s an i.e. in action: The greatest holiday of the season, i.e., Christmas, is just two months away.

Here’s an e.g. in action: There’s a ton of great things to do at the reunion, e.g., playing softball, washers and pick-up sticks.

You’re using i.e. when singular specificity is the goal. On the other hand, e.g. is more encompassing, as it signals to the reader that you’re merely offering an example or two from a list of possibilities, choices and potentials.

It’s easy to get confused. Some folks like thinking of e.g. as “example given” as a way to spur the memory. If that helps, all the better.

But it’s probably worth your time to step back and survey the greater landscape here: Effective communication. Using Latin abbreviations might spice up your email existence, but I’m not sure they’re key tools in the fight against clutter.

Readers can no doubt come away with the meaning of a sentence — and infer the basic concepts behind the abbreviations — even if they have no clue what i.e. and e.g. actually mean. But asking readers to think or causing them to pause or even re-read can prove disastrous. A colleague of mine likes to admonish journalism students with this gem: The newspaper is not a crossword puzzle.

Neither is your message. Clarity and comprehension are the goals.

Image: perpetualplum

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