Sunday, March 27, 2011

College Dictionary

It turns out that there are certain phrases which exist in English (or, more often, other languages, but are used in English texts anyway) which elude the high school curriculum. It is not until college that these words show themselves, suddenly appearing in nearly everything a college student reads.

It amazes freshmen, who are not yet accustomed to the terminology, that such phrases need even exist; after all, one was able to communicate just fine without them in the past. Why can't simpler words be used to express the same ideas? I, for one, believe that simpler phrases should be used in place of these. While some new vocabulary can add meaning, much of the "advanced" vocabulary is overused in academia (a fancy term for "the academic community," that is, students and teachers at universities).

What follows are some definitions for terms which I still struggle to understand, much less properly use. The most important quality they share: we probably don't need them.

vis-à-vis (prep)
You can tell it's French because it's got an accent mark going the wrong way, and because it sounds pretentious. A British dictionary tells me that it means "face to face," but more commonly, "in relation to."

Example: "The activity of the senses must combine synthetically with the inner action of the mind, and from this combination the idea is ejected, becomes an object vis-a-vis the subjective power, and, perceived anew as such, returns back into the latter" (Humboldt, "On Language").

de facto vs. de jure (adv)
De facto means by the fact, for all intents and purposes; de jure is by the law.

Example: English is the de facto national language of the United States, although this is not established in law. Contrarily, in Spain, Spanish is the de jure national language.

ad hoc (adv)
"For this," "for one specific case," "improvised," "unplanned." That is to say, not usable in a wider application or general case.

Example: We have no particular procedure, and deal with problems on an ad hoc basis.

et al. (abbr)
"And others." This is used in citations when there are many authors.

Example: Suppose Ben, Abby, and Eppie all helped me write this post. You could still get away with citing it: Brian et al.

i.e. vs. e.g. (abbr)
I.e. stands for id est which means "that is." E.g. stands for exempli gratia which means "for example." Stolen from Grammar Girl, I think of i.e. as standing for "in essence," and I just replace e.g. with ex. (example) in my mind.

Example: I like to blog (i.e., write on the internet), but I generally stay away from posting anything too personal (e.g., contact information, friends' full names, exact location) or too technical (eg. StarCraft strategies).

qua (prep)
Latin, meaning "in the capacity of."

Example: "This might be thought a decisive objection to a federal judge's writing about this subject even if the judge writes qua  academic rather than qua judge" (Posner, "An Affair of State").

pax et lux
The motto of Tufts University and inspiration of this very blog, it translates to "peace and light."

Example: When I am relaxed or inspired by the content of Peacelight, the blog truly lives up to its namesake, pax et lux.

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