33

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?

22

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).

  • 5
    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
  • 1
    several of my physics teachers used WRT (with respect to) in similar situations. – Dan Neely May 17 '13 at 12:34
  • I am editing an English language help file that was written by native German speakers, and it is full of 'resp'. In each case, replacing 'resp.' with 'or' provides a meaningful English sentence, so I believe StoneyB's answer is correct when dealing with material translated from German. – Reactive Jan 7 '16 at 16:27
  • @StoneyB, Wouldn't "e.g." be a suitable alternative for bzw? – Pacerier May 4 '16 at 4:03
12

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.

  • On what do you base the assumption that it's intended to mean "namely"? I ask sincerely. :) – Jim Reynolds Jan 11 '16 at 5:47
9

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.

  • 5
    Are you and I chained together tonight?! – StoneyB May 17 '13 at 0:49
  • A stone (or at least something stoney) chained to a boat (or at least something boaty)? Good luck! – Jim Reynolds Jan 11 '16 at 4:17
  • 1
    @LeonMeier Thank you for pointing that out. I've updated the link to point to the new URL. – snailcar Dec 7 '16 at 18:30
4

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.

  • 2
    This is fairly common in mathematical and computer science texts, in my experience. – Doug McClean May 17 '13 at 5:28
4

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.
4

Other posters who point out that this is a common error of Germans writing in English seem to be correct. I have encountered this error myself. Based on the examples, and others' likely correct assertion that the intended meaning is "namely", a term that would fit well in the context of the example is "i.e.".

Conveniently, this is also an abbreviation.

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

  • This works as a translation but does not fully capture what the likely German original 'beziehungsweise' actually means. Other answers do a good job of that. – damian May 31 '16 at 10:09
2

Yes. It means respectively. I'm a French scientist, and we use it a lot in French ("resp." = "respectivement"). We then tend to abuse of it, when writing scientific articles in English...

  • I am trying to infer its meaning in a text written by a native French speaker. I understand its meaning (I think) when used twice "wheels (resp. legs) are important for cars (resp. horses)". But how is it used if it only appears once? E.g. "We calculate the product (resp. sum) of the numbers." Can it be interpreted as meaning "in contrast to" or "as opposed to"? Something else? – RoG Sep 14 '17 at 10:41
1

It means "respectively", which is a way to combine two sentences into one by substituting something for something else.

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