Egg the Monkeys

My friend Dave is great at finding funny comics and passing them along; the one I usually like the best is called Pearls Before Swine because the artist, Stephan Pastis, pokes fun at language by using a strange-looking pig whose grasp of English is often entertaining. In one of my favorites, the pig mistakes the acronym e.g. for the word egg.

Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine, Stephan Pastis

It may be unlikely for someone to imagine e.g. means egg, but it isn’t unusual to see people making mistakes when they use the acronym.
Knowing when to use both e.g. and i.e. can be confusing.

  • e.g. is short for exempli gratia meaning ‘for the sake of example’ in Latin.
  • i.e. is short for id est meaning ‘that is to say’ or ‘in other words’ in Latin; in Hebrew it’s זאת אומרת .

Because they stand for Latin words, they’re hard to remember (unless you speak Latin). There are lots of memory tricks for trying to remember what they mean – some people try to remember these terms by imagining that i.e. stands for in essence and e.g. stands for egg-sample.
It’s important to know that e.g. introduces an example (part of a longer list):

  • Neta loves flowers, e.g. daisies, roses, cyclamen, and sunflowers.
    (Neta likes these flowers as well as other flowers.)
  • David plays sports, e.g. basketball, tennis, football and hockey.
    (David plays these and other sports.)

i.e. introduces a further clarification (these are the only items in the list):

  • Neta loves flowers, i.e. sunflowers.
    (These are the only flowers Neta likes.)
  • David plays sports, i.e. basketball and tennis.
    (The only sports David plays are basketball and tennis.)

My best advice about i.e. and e.g.: avoid them.
According to the Microsoft Style Guide for Technical Publications:

  • Instead of i.e. write ‘that is’
  • Instead of e.g. write ‘for example’

That’s pretty good advice, unless you want to take your chances with the eggs.

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About rachel karlin
I can't claim to be an English language expert, but making a lot of mistakes in Hebrew and hearing a lot of mistakes in English gets me thinking. And thinking in my world translates into writing, which in this case means sharing some of my ideas.

2 Responses to Egg the Monkeys

  1. toby says:

    Great post! I hadn’t known what those stood for (and I definitely don’t know Latin).

  2. espaciotrazo says:

    what abaout phonetic translation of hebrew words? would be great to learn in both directions (for those who don’t read hebrew)!! cheers and congrats.

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