SUPRA: refers to something written above (in a note, letter, article, etc.)


Latin words are used regularly in the American English language as a reference to a concept that is best expressed in Latin.   From such common terms as etcetera (etc.) to modus operendi (m.o.) we slip into them easily and assume that people know what they mean.   Because they are used so frequently, most people do.

A new one to me is supra, which comes from the Latin word meaning “above.

It is generally used by writers of articles or texts in which the writer wants to refer back to something that has been written in a previous part of the same piece.   For instance, if writing an article about thunder storms, the author has identified the meaning of the term stratocumulus as being one category of clouds.   It might describe them this way:

Stratocumulus clouds are formed when warm, moist air mixes with drier, cooler air into lumpy rolls and waves. They are usually gray to white with some darker areas. It can look like rain but usually only gives a sprinkle or drizzle. It can mean that worse weather is moving into the area later or on its way out.” *

Not wanting to repeat the lengthy explanation of the meaning of the word, the author may simply use the word stratocumulus, and add the parenthetical note (supra at p. 26, paragraph 3).  It tells the reader to refer back to the previous definition as noted above in the article.  It is a technique noted as disambiguation, indicating that there may be a number of definitions available for the word, but that the one referenced  above that is appropriate for this particular article.  It is probably more applicable to words like loaf, pant, or seat which have a variety of meanings (homonyms. )

Another Latin term which is related to supra is Op. cit. (opere citato)   It is a way of noting that this comment has previously been cited , not necessarily in this article, but in a piece identified.  It is then necessary to identify the piece, to which the reader can refer for further information on the topic.   Supra, to the contrary, refers back only to a reference in this same article.


Illustration Credit:  Brian Taylor


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