The reason I came by Ben’s notes on translations from the German was because I received an email from Jean-François in France, or at least via, on the topic of resp., which he said is OK in mathematics contexts. He had read on my blog that the abbreviation resp. doesn’t exist in English.

It is used in mathematics.
For an example, go to:
And search for “resp.” in the page.
Or do a Google search with: resp. mathematics.

I have to admit that this page and numerous other Ghits (© Trevor) cast serious doubt on my opinion. However, I do note that the author of this page is called Gérard P. Michon. He did his Ph.D. in Los Angeles, but there’s something not quite American about his name. And so it is with other Ghits (I haven’t looked at all of them).

So I wrote to Ben, who translates maths, but he didn’t seem too keen on resp. either.

Jean-François had been asked by an American technical writer from his company what he meant by resp. He also added – ‘just for fun’ – the following, which I pass on as I haven’t been able to digest it:

On supports of induced representations for symplectic and odd-orthogonal groups.
Let G be Sp(2n,F) (resp. SO(2n+1,F)), where F is a p-adic field of characteristic zero. In this paper, we give a correspondence which associates to an irreducible representation π of G an m-tuple of irreducible representations of lower rank symplectic (resp. orthogonal) groups based on the supercuspidal support of π. We show that this correspondence respects the induction and Jacquet module functors (in a sense to be made precise), as well as verifying a number of other useful properties. In essence, this correspondence allows one to isolate the effects of the different families of supercuspidal representations of general linear groups which appear in the support of π.

Meanwhile, someone else came to my site looking for resp. The search also threw up a discussion between some people in the USA on the use of respectively. One of them had written ‘Respectfully submitted by …’ and had this corrected to ‘Respectively submitted by …’ It was posited, of course, that this might be British usage. Finally the questioner decided to omit the word altogether.

25 thoughts on “Resp.

  1. Doing a quick search for resp. with site .uk, I find mainly instances that stand for respiratory, responsibility or response. Adding “mathematics” to the search finds a few thousand hits, some of which seem to mean “or alternatively” (so the same as German bzw.). But at least some of them seem to mean “with respect to” or “specifically”. So the abbreviation seems to exist in native British English, although it is not familiar to me, and I would not put any bets on what it actually means.
    Looking at ProZ term search (whole word G-E and E-G), it seems that the word is more likely to occur in queries drawn from German source texts.
    So it seems it is a fairly common German word with a specific and defined meaning, but a fairly rare English word that can have various meanings.

  2. Good heavens! Serious support for it. Does it mean the same as ‘respectively’ in English, that is, i even goes with two red points and i odd goes with two blue points? If that’s the case, it has no relation to the use of resp. (like f.ex.) in non-mathematical texts that looks so weird to us.

  3. The example you quote is a good example of reasons why one shouldn’t (even though one can) use “resp.” in mathematical writing. First, it’s unclear what the respectively refers to. Second, in the interest of clarity, it would be better written out in full.

    Margaret S’s example above looks better. Often in mathematical writing one achieves the same effect using parentheses and no “respectively”:

    “trajectories on the stable (unstable) manifold converge to X in forward (backward) time”.

    This is shorthand for “trajectories on the stable manifold converge in forward time, while those on the unstable manifold converge in backward time.”

  4. Pete: Very interesting, thank you. The example I quoted that was given to me ‘just for fun’ may have been seen to be unsatisfactory – anyway, I didn’t understand enough of it to judge!

  5. I happen to be the person who (indeed) “did his Ph.D. in Los Angeles” and who (indeed) has “something not quite American about his name”, as Margaret Marks points out in her quotation of some (good) prose of mine which does involve the mathematical use of “resp.”

    I’ve posted online a small note which now appears after the text quoted by Margaret. It refers her readers (and mine) to the article I put online, the same day, about the proper syntax of “resp.” If you’re curious about that, just follow the URL linked to my signature below (look for “resp.” and click away).

    I argue, basically, that “resp.” is a mathematical symbol which does not even obey the same syntax as the word “respectively”. Nevertheless, “resp.” is perfectly acceptable.

    Regarding the suggestion by Pete E. that “resp.” could somehow be omitted from the parenthetical locutions where it belongs, I’ll just refer you to the above paragraphs (and this one) where I have (voluntarily) used parentheses in many other ways (just a joke)(sorry, Pete).

    There are always many ways to express mathematical statements in English or in any other “natural” language. However, as Albert Einstein once put it: “If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the taylor.”

    If you find the use of “resp.” repugnant in translating somebody else’s mathematical prose, just find a clever way around it… However, do not ever assume that your readers will know instinctively that some parenthetical locutions might involve an implicit “resp.”. This would only work for extremely simple examples with little or no interesting mathematical content. Why should the reader have to guess?

    Then again, why avoid “resp.” in a mathematical context, except when the original author abuses it? “Resp.” is merely a mathematical convenience which is recognized in several languages, including English.

    I happen to have an interest in monitoring the “proper” use of English in its important role as the “lingua franca” of Science, in spite of whatever may be “not quite American” about my own name.

    Some of my 640+ articles at deal specifically with such “language” issues. Other such articles do so only incidentally. Thanks, Margaret, for this opportunity to add one more to the list…

    Your comments are welcome, of course, but I’ve spoken my peace. Over and out.

  6. Die Drei von der Tankstelle?
    Or were the pundits out in force to photograph the last German Protestant churchgoer to observe Repentance Day (“Buss- und Bettag”)?
    Curious …!

  7. There are little figures on a clock on the Rathaus tower that go round at 12 every day. What I don’t know is why so many people were wearing identical anoraks.
    Btw, note the latest comment on ‘Resp.’, which puts me in my place.

  8. Interesting comments by Gerard. On his evidence and the Google hits I’ve seen, it seems fair to say that “resp.” is a mathematical term (or symbol, as Gerard suggests), although the meaning does not seem to be completely consistent in the Google hits I’ve seen.
    (My conclusion: I would now not question the use of the term by a mathematician with real competence in English, but if I got a mathematical text to translate into English myself, I would look for other ways to express it.)

    However, this is a very specific usage in a single field. For general translation purposes, I still consider “resp.” a complete no-no and “respectively” a word that needs to be critically examined in every context to ensure that it is not “translatorese”.

  9. Thanks for satisfying my curiosity as a “foreigner” (i.e. non-Bavarian).
    I’ve added another comment to “resp.”, too.

  10. Thanks very much for the information, Gerard. I apologise for making a remark about your name, but I had been directed to it by a French speaker. Here’s a link to your usage note
    I must say I don’t translate maths and I imagine those who do translate maths, for example into German (who are unlikely to be reading this) know what to make of ‘resp.’ (Maths translation must be a good specialization).

  11. Yes they all appear to be clones – proof yet again that human cloning has indeed already happened somewhere on the planet … even the cameras appear to be clones…


  12. With all respect to Prof. Michon and other mathematicians, I stand by what I said: “respectively” is not a conjunction in the English language, and neither is its abbreviation.

    The peculiar usage cited, “+ infinity (resp. – infinity),” prompts two remarks:

    (1) It may be that mathematical writers do not regard this locution as including a conjunction at all. In this very specific instance, we mean something like this: we assert two propositions, the first having “+ infinity” as subject and the second having “- infinity.” The respective predicates are to be associated with the subjects in the order of listing; this is the purport of “respectively.” But our formal grammar requires that a compound subject have its members joined by a conjunction. Since “respectively” is not one, the mathematician who uses this form has committed an error.

    The claimed convention, under which “resp.” appears in place of a conjunction or a phrase operating as a conjunction, may well exist in some more-or-less large fields of mathematics. If that is the case then there are, oddly, two conventions governing the same situation, first the “resp.” usage and second the usage “+ infinity (- infinity)” pointed out by another Transblawg reader. To say nothing of the unobjectionable “+ infinity (or – infinity respectively).” But there is no arguing with conventions, so in any such fields, my claim becomes vacuous.

    (2) The request to which I was responding when I wrote that little paper was “Identify some overt features that mark a text as a translation from German into English.” Clearly I answered too narrowly: “resp.” instead of a conjunction may not be specific to German-English translation. The usage does, however, give virtually any English-native reader a strong impression that the text was not originally created in English but rather in a language where “beziehungsweise” or “respektiv” or some other word CAN correctly stand in place of a conjunction.

    In short, if Prof. Michon is right, he’s right (and the fact that his usage citation is his own text is not material). In those fields where this convention applies to English style, it’s correct because conventions can’t be wrong. Everywhere else, “resp.” is uncolloquial at best and, at worst, one of the tags I was asked for, a marker of a translation.

  13. Bodyleasing? Are you serious? What is that supposed to be? Is that the same as what most Brits (and possibly Americans, not sure there) would call “contracting”?

    Google doesn’t find a single “native” English page with the term, the only pages in English I’ve seen are by an Austrian and a bunch of Eastern Europeans.

  14. You know what I’m a little bit scared about? That during one of my rare visits to Germany someone will ask me a question with these strange Denglish terms. Example:

    Ist bodyleasing in England auch populaer?

    To which my answer would be: Huh? Was bitte?

    It’s already bad enough when I go into a shop and speak perfect German but struggle with the Euro coins and notes. They were introduced after I left for the UK, so I’m not really familiar with them. The personnel in the shops probably think I’m a complete idiot when I try to figure out what all these strange coins are…

  15. Armin: The correct answer to that question is ‘Stecken Sie sich Ihre Bodybag sonstwohin’.

    I was wondering if there’s a market for a Denglish>English dictionary, but there’s an awful lot out there. On Friday I was struggling with ‘Assurance and Advisory’, which turns out to be perfectly good English shorthand (Assurance and advisory services by auditors/Wirtschaftspr

  16. Quoting Armin: “It’s already bad enough when I go into a shop and speak perfect German but struggle with the Euro coins and notes. The personnel in the shops probably think I’m a complete idiot when I try to figure out what all these strange coins are…”

    How reassuring to hear I’m not unique! Proven solution: count out loud in English.

  17. Chris: unfortunately I sometimes have trouble with them myself, and I live here. And then I have trouble with the British ones too.
    At least Armin speaks perfect German. A German friend of mine, living in England, is disturbed to return to German and be complimented on how good her German is.

  18. Well, I have a funny story about that:

    A few years ago my employer moved me to Germany of all places (I’ve moved back to the UK since). Anyway, one day I went to lunch in the canteen. I think it was during the first week, may be the second week I was there. Having picked up my food from the counter I decided to join a group where I knew a few people from the previous days.

    One person at the table who knew who I was (well, my name and that I had just arrived from the UK) said, “Oh, we have to switch to English now so that Armin can understand us” ;-)

    But give it a few more years and I think I might have the same problem as your friend. My German is starting to suffer a bit, occasionally I can’t remember the German word for something. Recently I just couldn’t remember the German word for dashboard (Armaturenbrett, I remember now), so I had to resort to describing it. “You know that thing in the car where the dials are and stuff like that…”. And just a few days ago I had to ask my mother if you can say “Es regnet Katzen und Hunde” or if that’s only in English.

    I’ll try to remember Chris’ solution for the money problem, I think that might work.

  19. I find that I confuse idiom in both Danish and English by now. At least I was understood when I described a process as “using a cannon to shoot sparrows”. Hopefully I won’t forget “take a sledgehammer to crack a nut” soon.

    Then of course there are the situations where I’m not understood …

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