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The abbreviation resp. has been used a number of times in the following paragraph:

For each of these problems (resp., tools), we start by presenting the natural concern underlying it (resp., its intuitive objective), then define the problem (resp., tool), and finally demonstrate that the problem can be solved (resp., the tool can be constructed).

I am trying to understand what resp. means here (and many more times in the same book).

Trying to search using Google only confused me more, there are so many options.

Also please see this answer, which says that "resp." means "namely". Is this correct?

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I love this question, but I'm afraid it actually has nothing to do with English. But it might be useful to German visitors, or as a cautionary example of how not to use a bilingual dictionary. ... Perhaps it could be admitted by a back door, with the tag object-lesson? –  StoneyB May 17 '13 at 0:57
    
@StoneyB: I'm not convinced. If it ain't Off Topic for not relating to English, it's Too Localised. We don't need a special question on ELL to remind everyone that literal translations sometimes produce gibberish - between any two languages. –  FumbleFingers May 17 '13 at 2:38

6 Answers 6

I suspect this is a mistranslation of German bzw. = beziehungsweise, which can mean either respectively or or as the case may be. The translator has taken a passage in which the latter sense is intended and substituted the conventional abbreviation of the former sense.

The latter sense has no convenient one-word English translation, much less an abbreviation. I have often regretted this, because bzw. is so useful.

It sort of works, but not so gracefully, if you just substitute or for resp.

For each of these problems (or tools), we start by presenting the natural concern underlying it (or its intuitive objective), then define the problem (or tool), and finally demonstrate that the problem can be solved (or the tool can be constructed).

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In a fair amount of mathematics or computer science technical texts that I have seen it is used in this way as an abbreviation for respectively. –  Doug McClean May 17 '13 at 5:29
    
Also: the preposition "re." can be used in similar contexts which generally means "in respect of", or "in the matter of", and is synonyms with "regarding". For example "For each of the problems (re tools), we start by presenting the natural concern underlying it (re its intuitive objective) then define ...". It's a little clumsy, but then that clumsiness is inherited from the excessive bracketing of the original text. –  Matt May 17 '13 at 9:02
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several of my physics teachers used WRT (with respect to) in similar situations. –  Dan Neely May 17 '13 at 12:34

If the writer intends "resp." to mean "namely", then it's wrong. That abbreviation is viz. for videlicet. I've never seen "resp." used to mean "namely", and you'll notice that the answer you link to has received no votes for the 6 years since it was posted. One can only infer that this is what the writer intended.

According to the Merriam-Webster's New Unabridged Dictionary (3rd edition):

Main Entry:resp
Function:abbreviation

1 respective; respectively
2 respiration; respiratory
3 respondent

The Free Dictionary online says:

resp. abbr.
1. respective
2. respectively
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

And Dictionary.com says:

resp.
1. respective.
2. respectively.
3. respelled; respelling.
4. respondent.
Dictionary.com Unabridged. Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2013.

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It's not being used in a standard way. If I had to guess, I'd say it was written by a native speaker of German using respectively as an incorrect translation of beziehungsweise, abbreviated to resp. I base this guess largely on the following blog post:

Resp. and other non-existent English words

This usage isn't a normal part of English, but by all accounts it seems that the "namely" gloss is correct.

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Are you and I chained together tonight?! –  StoneyB May 17 '13 at 0:49

It seems that "resp." was intended to mean "respectively". The sentence is intended to convey the following two sentences without writing the common parts out twice:

For each of these problems, we start by presenting the natural concern underlying it, then define the problem, and finally demonstrate that the problem can be solved.

For each of these tools, we start by presenting its intuitive objective, then define the tool, and finally demonstrate that the tool can be constructed.

I am not sure whether this is considered correct usage of "respectively", though I have seen it used this way in some technical (mathematical) texts.

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This is fairly common in mathematical and computer science texts, in my experience. –  Doug McClean May 17 '13 at 5:28

The German connection others have raised is a good explanation for why I'd never seen this structure until a few years back. However, it's out there and in use now. It means, or can be taken to mean, "respectively", in much the same way that it's normally used in English.

The normal use for "respectively" is to signify that the items of two (or more) lists are meant to correspond to each other in one-to-one fashion. For example:

The hunters and gatherers brought meat and tubers, respectively.

This means that the hunters brought meat, and the gatherers brought tubers.

Now, the use of "resp." is a little bit different, but the purpose is the same. Instead of coming after the later list, it comes between items in each list. So your example:

For each of these problems (resp., tools), we start by presenting the natural concern underlying it (resp., its intuitive objective), then define the problem (resp., tool), and finally demonstrate that the problem can be solved (resp., the tool can be constructed).

...means that:

  • For each problem, we present the concern, define the problem, and demonstrate that it can be solved; and
  • For each tool, we present its objective, define the tool, and demonstrate that it can be constructed.
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It means "respectively", which is a way to combine two sentences into one by substituting something for something else.

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