Invented abbreviations

They’re confusing enough as it is. Don’t go inventing your own! They’re easy enough to check on the net if you’re not certain.

Just because there is a standard abbreviation in Dutch for a common short phrase in running text doesn’t mean there will be an equivalent in English (or vice versa). Which is a prime example in its own right: no English person will know what v.v. means…

  • The following have to be written out in full in English, or an alternative found:
    among others, for example, for instance
  • Especially don’t invent ones that already mean something else:
    btw (Dutch = VAT, EN = by the way)

    p.m. (NL pro memoria = for the record, EN post meridiem = afternoon)
    s.o.s. (NL z.o.z. = see other side, EN PTO = please turn over – whereas an SOS is an urgent plea for help!)
  • The Latin ones used in Dutch aren’t necessarily used in English, or not in the same way. At least etc. is okay! The following may well not be understood:
    a.i., ca. (English just uses “c.”), c.q., c.s., dd., e.a., i.c., LS, p.m. (used in English in times, but not pro memoria), v.v.
  • And get your English Latin right when you do use it. Fortunately there aren’t many in English, but the two commonest often get mixed up in Dunglish:
    e.g. means “for example” (bijv.)
    i.e. means “that is” (d.w.z.)

The one area where abbreviations keep being invented is texting; that’s a world of its own, though, with short forms that are all-caps and without dots. But that’s a separate topic.

Prevalence: very high. Can occur in just about any document other than fiction.
Frequency: very high. With a few particularly common ones being a.o., c.q., f.e. and v.v. – none of which will be understood.
Native: no. There are of course lots of abbreviations in English, but they’re mostly widely known and people stick to them.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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