5.0282 Response Summary: C.E./B.C.E. (1/58)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 15 Aug 1991 16:05:55 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0282. Thursday, 15 Aug 1991.

(1) Date: Thu, 15 Aug 91 13:01:04 CDT (58 lines)
From: Dennis Baron <baron@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: C.E./B.C.E.

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 91 13:01:04 CDT
From: Dennis Baron <baron@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: C.E./B.C.E.

I have received several responses from lexicographers on the
history and definition of these abbreviations. Having promised
earlier to pass these along, here goes:
>From the _OED_: "It is unfortunate that the expression `common
era' has escaped explicit definition in the _OED_" (does this
mean the definition is so obvious only a fool would ask for it?
if so, why do dictionaries bother to define the cardinal and
ordinal numbers so extensively?) In any case, _OED_ goes on
to cite an 1881 instance of BCE and an 1886 instance of CE,
as well as an 1825 use of C.AE. for `Christian Era.' Dr.
J.H. Marshall, Senior Assistant Editor of the New Shorter OED,
adds, "It is notable that all the sources are works of Jewish
history, and I suspect that CE for Christian Era was an initial
move away from the more overtly `partisan' AD. In fact, we have
very few examples of `common era' or of the abbreviations CE and
BCE, all from recent books on the history of non-Christian
religions or cultures (including Judaism and Sikhism). They
seem still to be used only in contexts where AD and BC would be
particularly incongruous, or by authors particularly reluctant
to use the Christian term."

Kathleen M. Doherty of Merriam-Webster Inc. writes there is very
little definitive information about these abbreviations. Both
Christian Era and Common Era are available expansions of C.E. and
have been since at least the 1909 _Webster's New International
Dictionary_. "C.E. common era seems to have become more widespread
especially in books dealing with theology over the last ten to
fifteen years."

It's disappointing not to find a smoking lexicographical gun, a
text (early 19c seems likely) where the author says "I'm going
to coin CE/BCE because . . . " (where the reasons are something
like a) I'm not a Christian, or b) I don't believe in using Latin
when native words will do, or c) A.D. just presents too many usage
problems--does it go before or after, how do you use it with a
century or a range of dates? or d) I know how hard it is to deal
with abbreviations in dictionaries.

Anyway, this is probably all more than the initial poser of this
query wanted to know, and less.

debaron@uiuc.edu            ____________              217-333-2392
                           |:~~~~~~~~~~:|        fax: 217-333-4321
Dennis Baron               |:          :|
Dept. of English           |:    db    :|
Univ. of Illinois          |:          :|
608 S. Wright St.          |:==========:|
608 S. Wright St.          |:==========:|
Urbana IL 61801             \\ """"""""  \
                             \\ """"""""  \