When I report the origin of a word, how should I write the meaning of the word from which the word derives?

  • I write it in quotes, after the word in that language: Latin minister "servant".
  • I write it between parentheses: Latin minister (servant).

2 Answers 2


There's no one right way to do it, but I prefer the second choice, although I also put the word in quotes even when it is in parentheses: example ("meaning"). I think the parentheses make it more clear than just having the meaning follow after the word.

A lot of dictionaries will use a more concise style, which I think is a holdover from when space considerations were important. Personally, I think we can afford the additional space if it gives more clarity.


Both are fine. Perhaps I'd add a comma after minister in your first example. You could add additional quotation marks within the brackets in your second example, but that isn't necessary. I use both forms, though I think I have a slight preference for minister, "servant". I think this is the most standard option.

  • The first "style" is the one I see on the NOAD. I thought to add the comma after minister, but that doesn't seem to match the punctuation used in the sentence.
    – apaderno
    Apr 22, 2011 at 21:24
  • @kiamlaluno: The word in quotation marks is best considered an apposition to the one in italics, and appositions are usually separated by commas. Apr 22, 2011 at 21:57

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .