5.0247 Origin of CE/BCE (2/59)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 24 Jul 1991 21:41:51 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0247. Wednesday, 24 Jul 1991.

(1) Date: Fri, 19 Jul 91 20:42:30 CST (15 lines)
From: (James Marchand) <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: ce

(2) Date: Mon, 22 Jul 91 13:11:29 CDT (44 lines)
From: Dennis Baron <baron@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: C.E./B.C.E.

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 19 Jul 91 20:42:30 CST
From: (James Marchand) <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: ce

I also do not have any idea as to the originator of this abbreviation, but I
suspect 18th century, when a great deal of PC work went on. I have seen it
called the Christian era, so that removing Christ did not work for some. It
is also called in English "the vulgar era," "our era." In German, one avoids
mention of Christ for whatever reason by saying "Vor unserer Zeitrechnung,"
for example. In French, one can say "l'e&graveaccent;re commun" or "notre
e&graveaccent;re." I would hate to see AD, AM and PM go down the drain. I
was raised in a monolingual community where no language was taught even in
the high-school; the expansions of these abbreviations were practically my
only confrontation with Latin (maybe also i.e. and e.g.).
Jim Marchand

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------55----
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 91 13:11:29 CDT
From: Dennis Baron <baron@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: C.E./B.C.E.

Interestingly, perhaps predictably, the standard dictionaries
are of no help on the dating of these abbreviations. The _OED_
defines C.E. (or C. AE.) as Common Era, sometimes Christian Era.
_Christian Era_ was first used in English ca. 1657; the synonymous
_Vulgar Era_ is dated 1716. There are no dates or cites for
_Common Era_ (s.v. CE, Common, Era, Common Era). Webster's 3rd
defines Common Era as `Christian Era.' Webster's II New Riverside
Dictionary defines C.E. as `common era,' but does not define
_Common Era_. The _Random House Dictionary of English_ 2nd ed
defines _Common Era_ as `Christian Era.' And the politically
aberrant _Random House Webster's College Dictionary_ does the

Only Rosten's _Joys of Yiddish_ comments on these abbreviations
that they have long been popular with Jewish scholars who were
uncomfortable with a christological dating system. This I know
from personal experience to be true. Unfortunately I can find
no information to hand on just how long this has been a common
practice, or if it indeed originated with Jewish scholars. I
have made some inquiries and will let you know if I find anything
more definite. However the assumption by the common dictionaries
that common = Christian suggests that this attempt to unbias the
reference system with respect to religion fares no better than
attempts to reduce sex discrimination (wherein _chairperson_ is
often the signal that the _chair_ is a woman, and _Ms._ is often
treated as a synonym for _Miss_). Not that dictionaries are
universally fair to Christians (check out some definitions of
_jesuitical_ and _pontificate_).
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