The Word Guy: Use i.e. before a list, e.g. before explanation
Question: One linguistic usage that always throws me for a loop is whether to use “i.e.” or “e.g.” to cite an example or examples.
Would you mind clarifying the rules around this?
— Debbie, via email
Answer: I'll be glad to, i.e., I'll explain.
The abbreviation “i.e.,” which stands for the Latin “id est” (“that is”), should be used to precede phrases or clauses that explain or clarify a statement, as in “Bainbridge referred continually to his ‘windfall,' i.e., his lottery winnings,” or “I have a problem with Zeno, i.e., I detest his dishonesty.” (The “i.e.” may be preceded by a comma or semicolon.)
By contrast, “e.g.,” which stands for the Latin “exempli gratia” (“for example”), should be used to precede one or more examples, as in “George enjoys Italian foods, e.g., spaghetti, lasagna and pizza.”
The most common mistake people make is using “i.e.” for “e.g.,” as in “Molly enjoys several kinds of music, i.e., rock, folk and blues.” Don't do that.
Just remember that “i.e.” precedes explanations and “e.g.” precedes lists.
A trick that helps me with this choice is to think of “i.e.” as standing for “I explain.”
Q: What's the derivation of “pinky,” as in this sentence: “He had 12 points and 10 assists in his second game back after a 10-game absence with a broken right pinky.”
— Art Frackenpohl, Potsdam, N.Y.
A: Funny how an injury to a small finger can sideline a big man. I broke two fingers in a pickup basketball game once, and, 36 years later, those two fingers are still crooked.
Unlike my fingers, the origin of “pinkie” is straightforward: The Dutch word “pinck” meant “small,” and its diminutive form, “pinkje,” referred to the smallest finger. English adopted this term around 1800, spelling it “pinkie,” sometimes “pinky.”
But can we put our finger on a connection between “pinkie” and the color pink? Here's where things get interesting.
According to etymological expert Evan Morris, the Scots adopted the Dutch term “pinck” to mean “small” during the 1500s. So, when they saw that eyes stricken with conjunctivitis looked half-shut and small, they called this medical condition “pink eye” (“small eye”).
And when they noticed that the pale red flower of the plant genus Dianthus resembled a half-closed eye, they called this flower “pink eye,” too, eventually shortening it to “pink.” Soon, they were using the term “pink” to describe the pale red color of the flower.
So the Dutch word “pinck” connects “pinkie” and “pink.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Cops: Washington County surplus store sold stolen items
- Flyers continue mastery of Penguins at Consol
- Starkey: Century mark beckons for Ben
- Steelers’ defense on pace for fewest sacks in 16-game season
- Highmark seeks double-digit increase for more benefits, heavy use
- Officials identify witness to Port Authority bus crash after releasing photo
- WPIAL, coaches are still looking to schedule Week 9 rivalry games
- Canadians more fearful, aware after ‘very rare’ attack in Ottawa
- Buffalo Township grandma pleads guilty to selling hundreds of pounds of weed
- Contempt citation sought by state against Highmark for alleged violation of deal with UPMC
- Wanted sex offender caught hiding in homemade fort in Washington County