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The Warsaw Voice » Business » October 27, 2011
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Troublesome Abbreviations
October 27, 2011   
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Monika Sznajder is a philologist and long-time editor of English at Get It, a Warsaw translation agency.

Have you ever wondered why some words in English may be more appropriate to use than others? Take the abbreviations BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) versus BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era).

Sensitive as we are at Get It to language-related issues, we noticed that the abbreviations have recently turned out to be somewhat troublesome (the BBC got seriously lambasted over them) and they are perhaps worth a closer look. Generally the abbreviations referring to Christ are much more common and understandable, and little wonder, as they have been around since Scythian monk and scholar Dionysius Exiguus first used them in the sixth century AD (or CE, if you are ready for some political correctness overkill).

For this reason alone they may be worth sticking to. However, they are not used in the same way. AD comes before the year and after the century (hence “AD 127” and “fourth century AD”), whereas BC always comes after the number (“124 BC” and “first century BC”). The other pair (CE/BCE) are invariably placed after the numbers.

As to which of them are more appropriate, I am somewhat at a loss. I do not think the pair given to us by the Scythian monk alienate or offend, even if I can imagine situations when referring to Christianity is better avoided. As usual in such controversial, language- and religion-related issues, tact is your best guide if you have to make choices—and in this case you do—between correct alternatives.
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