Proofreading Tips: Ex Libris, Et Cetera

Catriona Tippin

J K Rowling’s use of Latin as a source for dozens of spell names, from Accio to Wingardium Leviosa, was imaginative and fun. The aim here is to remind you of a selection of Latin words and phrases in everyday use, all worth getting right. 

Here are three commonly used, and occasionally confused: 

et cetera 
and the rest 

The Proofreading Tips articles feature hints on grammar, punctuation, spelling etc. 

exempli gratia 
for example 

The Proofreading Tips articles have covered several topics, eg grammar, punctuation and spelling. 

id est 
that is 

The Proofreading Tips articles have touched on three main topics, ie grammar, punctuation and spelling. 


With the introduction of word processing, punctuation has changed. We now have automatic proportional spacing between words and kerning between characters (see link). There is, therefore, less need for double spacing between sentences, and French spacing (single spacing) has become the norm. As sentence breaks are subtler, littering abbreviations with full stops can interrupt the flow of reading. Including a full stop after an abbreviation may appear to be a sentence break. It is now well-established that uppercase abbreviations don’t need abbreviations (B.B.C. looks old fashioned and unnecessary), many style guides now advise leaving the punctuation out of lowercase abbreviations, and I do too. 

Here’s another selection: 

ad hoc 
for this 

Improvised, impromptu, expedient, make-do. 

alter ego 
other self 

Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne each have one, Doctor Jekyll wishes he didn’t. 

carpe diem 
seize the day 

Strictly the translation should be pluck the day (like fruit). There you go, some pedantry for Pub Quiz Night! 

de facto 
concerning fact 

What happens in practice. 

ex libris 
from the library of 

The inscription you find on bookplates and my tenuous link to the Libraries theme this month. The thumbnail above is one of Aubrey Beardsley’s designs. 

modus operandi 
method of operation 

Usually used to describe a criminal’s particular style. 

mutatis mutandis 
things being changed that have to be changed 

With the necessary modifications (mut mut in proofreading circles). 

quod erat demonstrandum 
which was to be demonstrated 

Useful in a mathematical or philosophical context. Used when you’ve made your point – “So there!” 

quod vide 
for which, see... 

Go and look it up. No, I mean it, it’s ‘go and look it up’. 

sicerat scriptum 
thus was it written 

Often used to discredit a quoted statement, and demonstrate a little superiority. 

status quo 
The existing state of affairs 

Altogether now: Down, down, deeper and down. 

Let it stand 

A useful proofreading term for “you know that bit I just scored out? Well, put it back in”. 

Here are my favourite Latin phrases, they express two logical fallacies you see in tabloid reporting and flabby journalism, especially when describing the latest ‘scare’ thrown up by recent ‘research’: 

post hoc ergo propter hoc 
after this, therefore because of this 

A occurred, then B, therefore A caused B. 

cum hoc ergo propter hoc 
with this, therefore because of this 

A occurs in correlation with B therefore A causes B. 

And finally, here’s a Quiz Question. You might come across the phrase decus et tutamen most days... where?

Catriona Tippin aka @ProofReadingTip will be back next month with more proofreading tips. 

To see previous tips, click on this proofreading link.

Catriona Tippin has been a member of SCBWI since 2006 and helps organise venues for SCBWI North East. Details of her writing and illustrating here. She proofreads study guides, house magazines and publicity material for two national educational charities, in addition to working on a variety of proofreads and copyedits for the growing self-published world. Her monthly column is intended to give you food for thought, remembering “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling or typographical error” (McKean’s Law, named after its inventor Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary). 


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  3. Ahem! There are two mistakes in this list. Can you spot them?

  4. This is, as always, a really useful and practical piece. Thanks Catriona!

  5. Well spotted, Janet! Deliberately done, of course... ;-)

  6. Fascinating. Thank you, Catriona. House styles differ so much it's difficult to match a publisher's if submitting directly. Personally, I don't know the world is ready for eg or ie (spellchecks certainly aren't!) Might try QED for a geeky character, but mostly I prefer plain English.

  7. Decus et tutamen? 'An ornament and a safeguard' - it's the inscription round (most) pound coins. An inscription round the edge of a coin traditionally prevents coin clipping!

  8. Post office based mail direct mail advertisements are more hard to peruse than most sorts of business correspondences on account of two essential reasons: firstly, standard mail direct mail advertisements are spontaneous which fundamentally implies you've no privilege to expect that your beneficiary will in fact read your letter, significantly less open it. Proofreader's direction

  9. This is the best way to correct my punctuation online free it will be really provide you a lot of benefit. Good job!


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