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M. Paul Shore called my attention to a highly useful Latin expression that, in his opinion, is much needed in various scholarly communities, but that few people are aware of, much less use.

Paul writes:

For the last four-and-a-half decades of my life, from late teens to early sixties, I've had the nagging feeling that there ought to be a Latin scholarly expression that one could use when presenting the correction of an erroneous word or words in quoted material alongside the error itself. But in all my tens of thousands of pages of reading of scholarly works in the social sciences and humanities (which is not to be compared, of course, with the hundreds of thousands of pages, or more, that you must've read), I never ran across such an expression until last night, when I saw it in independent scholar Nigel Simeone’s meticulously annotated book of selected correspondence of Leonard Bernstein, published by Yale University Press. There it was, in black and white: recte! Meaning, of course, “correctly”, as in “Victor Mare [recte Mair]”, or “Edwin Pullyblank [recte Pulleyblank]”. It’s so exciting to discover this, after all these decades of desiring it, that I almost feel like applying to a graduate program at my somewhat advanced age, choosing a thesis or dissertation topic that requires the use of lots of defective sources, just so that I can splash “recte“ on as many pages of my work as possible.

Needless to say, the usefulness of other vaguely similar expressions and techniques, insofar as mistake correction is concerned, doesn’t come close to the usefulness of this particular expression. “I.e.“ is too vague, not making it clear in all apposite circumstances, even when there’s a proper context, that it’s specifically a mistake correction that’s occurred. “Sc.” and “viz.” are no better. Putting the correction in square brackets tends to require the obliteration of the original mistake, doing away with the desirable side-by-side comparison. “Sic” indicates the presence of a mistake, but leaves no scope for correcting that mistake other than by the addition of a wordy explanatory phrase. One could of course use the English word “rightly” or “correctly”, or some multi-word explanation, to introduce the correction, but those lack the terse, formalized quality, as well as the attention-getting italics and language switch, that taken together are so advantageous in the execution of a basic and frequently-needed scholarly operation like correcting an error. In short, recte is greatly superior to its alternatives—and yet so few people know about it!

I agree with Saul [recte Paul] that this is an elegant, efficient way to signal the need for a change in a text and to specify the change that should be made.


Selected readings


  1. Trogluddite said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 8:59 am

    …an elegant, efficient way to signal the need for a change in a text and to specify the change that should be made

    Something like thid common method?…


    (well, it's efficient at least; maybe not so elegant though!)

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 9:32 am

    But is the asterisk notation (which I have never encountered other than in comments on this forum) "efficient" ? If you had written

    Thus thin tuis phis.


    how would a reader know which of the four strings to replace by "this" ?

  3. Jerry Packard said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 9:36 am

    'I.e.' seems to work pretty well for me: “Victor Mare [i.e., Mair]”.

  4. Frans said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 9:56 am

    @Jerry Packard
    As stated in the OP that doesn't make it particularly clear that it's a correction though; it might be a nickname among friends or simply an alternate spelling due to transliteration.

    As another example, consider something like "in Flushing [i.e., Vlissingen]". There is no correction there, just a clarification for (some) modern readers.

  5. Morten Jonsson said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 10:01 am

    No objection to "recte" if you want to use it. It's elegant and efficient, and elegantly and efficiently makes it clear that you know more Latin than most of your readers do. But I don't see the problem with the alternatives. Putting the correction in square brackets does not require obliterating the original; you're free to put it after the original if you like. "I.e." is not vague in the proper context: If you're write, "discrete [i.e., discreet]," you're obviously correcting a mistake. "Sc." and "viz." are just as clear, though you don't see them much these days. And "sic" doesn't require a wordy explanatory phrase. Just add the correction after it: "discrete [sic; discreet]."

    Perhaps the reason so few scholars have chosen this solution to a pressing need is that the need isn't really all that pressing.

  6. unekdoud said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 11:20 am

    The explanation for sic doesn't need to be that wordly (sic, should be wordy).

    Sed replace notation (s/replace/substitute/) is another modern solution to the same problem, but it gets quite awkward when used inline.

  7. Leslie said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 11:21 am

    What's wrong with

    [written thus; should be …]


  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 12:56 pm

    Leslie: Nothing except that it's longer. On the other hand it has the advantages of being more widely understood and less show-off-y.

  9. Philip Anderson said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 1:02 pm

    Recte isn’t just used to correct misspellings, but also factual errors like dates, where i.e. would be odd, and sic wouldn’t correct it.
    For instance, checking Wiktionary I see this very post is referenced incorrectly:
    “ Victor Mair, Recte!, Language Log, February 23 [recte 13], 2022”

  10. Philip Anderson said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 1:16 pm

    Recte isn’t just used to correct misspellings, but also factual errors like dates, where i.e. would be odd, and sic emphasises the wrong value.
    For instance, checking Wiktionary I see this very post is referenced incorrectly:
    “ Victor Mair, Recte!, Language Log, February 23 [recte 13], 2022”

  11. Victor Mair said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 1:28 pm

    I wonder how long it will take for Wiktionary to correct that error.

  12. Trogluddite said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 1:53 pm

    @Philip Taylor: Less flippantly: Why privilege borrowing from Latin? The asterisk is a widely recognised social media idiom for noting a correction; whereas, as Paul admits, "so few people know about" 'recte' because it is vanishingly rare. If they each indicate essentially the same thing, and the annotation style (footnote vs. inline) is assumed to be orthogonal, then is there any reason besides ostentation to prefer tis [recte, this] over, say, tis [*this]? That's assuming that a novel idiom is required at all – of which I'm not at all convinced.

  13. M. Paul Shore said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 3:33 pm

    Morten Jonsson: Reiterating and expanding on my and Frans’s points, all of the more-common methods you suggest, including using sic devoid of a clarifying explanation, fail to make it clear to the reader whether it’s a correction or merely an alternative that’s being presented. Consider the following examples:

    “Shakspere [Shakespeare]”

    “Shakspere [i.e., Shakespeare]”

    “Shakspere [sc., Shakespeare]”

    “Shakspere [viz., Shakespeare]”

    “Shakspere [sic; Shakespeare]”

    These examples show the five methods you mention, in each case used to present a more-common version of the playwright’s name as an alternative to a less-common version—and you and I know from the outset that they’re alternatives because the existence of those variants has at least in the past been reasonably widely known in educated circles. But what about a typical present-day undergraduate, reading a scholarly article that, having quoted some old source referring to “Shakspere”, then inserts, by way of explanation, one of the five square-bracketed options above: how likely is it that such a student will know or even suspect that what he or she is seeing is in fact a pair of alternatives, not an error followed by a correction? I’d say it’s not particularly likely. And what if you, for example, were to be reading an article or book about late-Middle-/early-Modern-English poetry that quoted an old source about the less-well-known-than-Shakespeare figure “John Shelton [i.e., Skelton], and you were to assume that the square-bracketed material was “obviously correcting a mistake”? Well, then you’d be wrong: the names are alternatives. On the other hand—moving now to Restoration-era English theater—a hypothetical phrase “William Witcherlee [recte Wycherley]” would leave no ambiguity. It’s that precision that makes recte desirable.

    Clearly not everybody feels a pressing need for recte; but I’ve been feeling it, without knowing whether such a word even existed, ever since the seventies, and I’d like to think there might be a significant number of others who feel the same way. One more point: I’m not bothered by the concern that using recte might seem showoffy. If the word were to become well-known, it wouldn’t seem showoffy any more. And remember, we’re talking here about writing for readerships of scholars, not for the audience at a Trump rally.

  14. GH said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 3:49 pm

    In a text that is already using Latin tags for other editorial interjections (sic, ibid., cf., viz., i.e., e.g., etc.), I think the consistency this term offers is stylistically much preferable to any of the alternatives proposed.

    One great virtue of recte is that although rare, it is by no means obscure. Anyone who comes across it in any scholarly text will almost certainly understand it without difficulty, even if they have never seen it before, associating it with words like "rectify," "correct," or "rightly." And if they should nevertheless somehow be confused or uncertain, they can easily look up the meaning. Neither is the case with for example the (non-standard) asterisk for the same purpose.

  15. Chips said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 5:25 pm

    Then again, there is the Latin favourite of proof readers/sub-editors/copy editors: Stet. Let it stand.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 7:23 pm


    And authors like me! I have to use "stet" more than any other abbreviation when I'm responding to copy editors' queries and suggestions.

  17. Andrew Usher said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 8:56 pm

    Although recte seems fine, and at least has an obvious pronunciation (I would think), I've used the 'sic' alternative, though followed by a colon rather than a semicolon or comma. Honestly I probably would avoid recte because it's so rare, it would feel as if I'm showing off.

    I don't find M. Paul Shore's comment convincing: in the Shakespeare case, you either know that 'Shakspere' is an alternative spelling (not a mistake) or you don't, and none of the short notations is going to inform you. Likewise for the other old names, for which the notion of 'correct spelling' is not really as clear-cut as it would be today.

    k_over_hbarc at

  18. M. Paul Shore said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 9:54 pm

    Trogluddite: One reason to privilege borrowing from Latin is that, as GH points out, academic writing in English has maintained a substantial collection of at least somewhat frequently used Latin words, and abbreviations thereof, for various scholarly functions, operations, concepts, and so on, and recte fits nicely into that collection, with its italicization and Latin origin signaling to the reader that it’s a word of the same general type.

    One problem with the idea of adopting the asterisk-before-the-word notation into scholarly writing for the purpose of denoting a correction of an error is that that notation has already been taken, being used in linguistics to signify that a given form is an unattested, reconstructed form.

    Note that the current rarity of recte is—just to state the obvious—not an inherent, irredeemable characteristic of the word: my point is that I think it deserves to be made common. Note also that recte can’t really be considered a “novel idiom”, since it’s been around for centuries, just at a somewhat low rate of usage.

  19. Philip Taylor said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 5:24 am

    I notice that in the electronic edition of George Etheridge's encomium, the editor (Dr Christopher Wright) had tagged all such editorial emendations as corr.: <original text> cod. (e.g., L1, W4 corr.: ἐμφανέστατῃ cod.). It is interesting (to me, at least) that there is such a well-established convention for this case but a far less well-established convention for the use of recte.

  20. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 9:08 am

    We already have two inconsistent specialized uses of asterisks in linguistics scholarship, both the "unattested reconstructed historical form" one that M. Paul Shore noted and the "judged ungrammatical" one that has been common in syntax since at least the early phases of the Chomsky era.

    1a. My son is reading Harry Potter.
    1b. *Son my is Harry Potter reading.

    I'm not sure that adding a third would be a good idea.

    It is often the case in formal legal writing (at least the U.S. version) that when you put material in square brackets inside a direct quote you are telling the reader that you are replacing the literal words of the original quote with wording of your own that, you implicitly assert, is a fair paraphrase in the context in which you are using the quote. It need not be the case that the original wording was an error (although it might be), it might be just that it was harder to follow when taken outside his original context. So e.g. if I wrote in a legal brief "the Language Log post written by [Victor Mair] in 2022" the original text could have been any number of correctly-spelled synonyms, e.g. "vhm" or "Prof. Mair" or "that UPenn sinologist dude" but could also have been an infelicitous misspelling. The question, it seems to me, is whether it is necessary or helpful to the reader to explicitly note that the original language was *wrong* in some sense rather than just warn the reader that you have emended the original language in a way you think makes the quote flow better as you are using it. One difference, to be fair, is that in the legal context it will usually be fairly easy for a skeptical reader to consult the underlying source to verify what original wording has been replaced by your square-bracketed emendation, enabling readers to draw their own conclusions about whether your modification was or was not fair and reasonable.

    I appreciate that there may be times when pointing out that source being quoted was in error is affirmatively useful, but I'm not sure if that extends to every time you need to quote the passage.

  21. M. Paul Shore said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 9:59 am

    Philip Taylor: Are you sure that this “corr./cod. notation that Dr. Christopher Wright uses really qualifies as a “well-established convention”? I for one have never seen it before, and the current online OED doesn’t include either element of it, whereas it does include recte, with examples from 1811, 1861, 1886, 1934, 1979, and 1993.

    What specifically do corr. and cod. stand for, by the way?

  22. Philip Taylor said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 11:50 am

    Sorry, the comment disappeared, I re-inserted it from my cached copy, but all italics were lost in the process. Please mentally re-insert <i> and </i> as required.

  23. Philip Taylor said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 11:54 am

    And now the comment has disappeared again, so my "please insert" will appear meaningless — I append the original comment yet again, but fear that it as doomed as its two earlier incarnations …

    Knowing Chris Wright as I do, I can attest to the fact that he is extraordinarily punctilious, and would not have adopted non-standard markup for his Apparatus criticus. Furthermore, the project was supervised by Dr Charalambos Dendrinos, who is equally punctilious and would not have allowed "one-off" markup. Chris has been doing work such as this for many years, so I do not know from where he acquired his knowledge of this particular set of scholarly conventions, but it was easy to locate a couple of online resources that could be used as reference : and

    As to corr. and cod., they are respectively contractions of corr(ectio/exit) (correction / corrected) and codex/codices (manuscript / manuscripts).

  24. Philip Taylor said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 2:11 pm

    I have made three attempts to answer M. Paul Shore's perfectly reasonable question, and each attempt has mysteriously disappeared. I see little point in making a fourth attempt unless/until a moderator is willing to explain what happened to the previous three.

  25. Morten Jonsson said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 2:17 pm

    @M. Paul Shore

    In your examples of why my proposals won't do, "recte" won't do either, since it indicates an error, and "Shakspere" is not an error. So I'm not sure I see the relevance. In any case, each of the examples has a slightly different nuance, offering the writer a choice. "Shakspere [Shakespeare]" doesn't indicate that the spelling in the text is an error; it simply notes, without judgment, that Shakspere means Shakespeare. "Shakspere [i.e., Shakespeare]" does the same, with a slight nudge: "in case you don't realize it, Shakspere means Shakespeare." I said earlier that in context, "i.e." could mean there's an obvious error. This is not that context. "Shakspere [viz. Shakespeare]" and "Shakspere [sc. Shakespeare]" don't seem appropriate here; they promise a more detailed explanation than is actually given. "Shakspere [sic; Shakespeare]" is also not appropriate; like your "recte," it suggests there's an error when there isn't one. (It doesn't literally mean there's an error, but authors tend to use it that way. There's the pejorative "sic," for example, as when it's placed after an old-fashioned usage the enlightened current writer wants you to know they disapprove of.)

    On questions like this, your hypothetical undergraduate probably needs more help than a scholarly abbreviation can provide. The example of Shelton/Skelton makes the same point as Shakspere/Shakespeare. Again, "recte" wouldn't be right here either. "William Witcherlee [recte: Wycherley]" does clearly indicate that you've corrected an error. But so would "William Witcherlee [sic; Wycherley]." The difference is that it does so by implication, not explicitly. It's more tactful about it; it doesn't say "Look at that idiot, misspelling a word"; it raises an eyebrow and lets you draw your own conclusions. I rather prefer that, but it's a matter of taste. And just the fact that "recte" provides a different nuance, even if it doesn't fill a gap, does make it potentially useful.

  26. Andy Stow said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 3:09 pm

    @Philip Taylor, there's of course an XKCD of the ambiguous asterisk method.

  27. Philip Anderson said,

    February 15, 2022 @ 4:11 am

    @Philip Taylor
    Isn’t the apparatus criticus used for a critical edition not too specialised for these kind of corrections, where recte is long established?

  28. Philip Taylor said,

    February 15, 2022 @ 5:11 am

    I wasn't (intentionally) advocating the adoption of the terminology used in Apparatus criticus for the more general case, merely pointing out that such terminology exists and is (in my experience) more widely used than recte. But of course I may be wrong — I frequently am.

  29. Michael Watts said,

    February 20, 2022 @ 8:43 am

    If you had written

    Thus thin tuis phis.


    how would a reader know which of the four strings to replace by "this"?

    The reader would know how to read the message. It's not English, but it was presumably something.

    You reminded me of something I thought was really interesting in a version of the Canterbury Tales I found online. It presented the original text, line by line, with annotations per line. The annotations were definitions of words expected to be unfamiliar to the modern reader.

    But notably, the annotations were not linked in any way to the words they were defining, only to the line in which the word appeared. You were expected to know which word you needed help with — the definition was for that word. (A perfectly reasonable expectation, assuming you're a native speaker of modern English!)

  30. Philip Taylor said,

    February 21, 2022 @ 9:58 am

    I would very much appreciate a link to that online version of the Canterbury Tales, Michael.

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