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Wikitionary mentions offhand that "q.v." is used to reference material, but the definition it gives is far too sparse for my taste. My question is, what does "q.v." stand for and when should one use it? How does it compare with "cf.", for example?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 4 down vote accepted

q.v. stands for the phrase   quod vide : "on this (matter) go see"

Cf. is mainly used to reference articles proving or documenting one's point or having authority, not to avoid treating a particular aspect in the course of the writing.

Compared to cf., most authors restrict its use to reference another part of the same work (usually a book) where they treat the subject matter. This is also used to advise the reader to read another work they endorse.

In a monography or a large book, there is seldom one perfect way of organizing serially all the content. q.v. gives a mean to the author to help his reader learn more at his leasure:

  • without making footnotes
  • without distracting or boring people already knowledgeable
  • without repeating part of the material

On critical editions, you will sometimes find q.v. in margin comments or apostilles as a quick comment for a quote, giving its source.

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Actually Cf. (or cfr.) can be used to refer to another work as well... It comes from "confronta" which in italian means "compare". –  Alenanno May 13 '11 at 14:52
@Alenanno: I believe this is what I say, I even try to make a recurrence on Cf. –  ogerard May 13 '11 at 14:56
@Alenanno Cf. is not from Italian; it is from Latin confer meaning ‘compare’. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 17 '14 at 11:32
@JanusBahsJacquet Yes, you're right, I don't know why I worded it that way. "Confronta" is the italian corresponding expression for "compare". :) –  Alenanno Jun 17 '14 at 16:50
@Alenanno, Shouldn't q.v. be used to reference articles instead of cf., since cf. is ambiguous as it could mean "compare/contrast" instead of "refer"? –  Pacerier Aug 1 '14 at 9:28

To build on the previous answers, the internet has largely replaced usage of the term "q.v." with a hyperlink, which implies that the reader can click it to further inform himself before reading on. It can still be used, however, to encourage the reader to read it, especially if it contains preliminary material.

Discussion of the Magi begins in the previous commentary (q.v.).

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Is cf accepted usage here? Eg. "Discussion of the Magi begins in the previous commentary (c.f.)." –  Pacerier Aug 1 '14 at 9:29
I don't know where "here" is, but in your example you would use q.v. The best I know, "cf." always takes an object to which on wants to compare the antecedent word or phrase. Also note, it is "cf." not "c.f." –  Mason Barge Aug 6 '14 at 18:08
I used to be a lawyer and it has a very specific and nuanced meaning when used in a brief or law review article. Cf. is used when the cited authority supports a proposition different from the main proposition but sufficiently analogous to lend support. It is more directly supportive than "see generally" but less than "see also". –  Mason Barge Aug 6 '14 at 18:17

This is what my NOAD says:

Used to direct a reader to another part of a book or article for further information.

ORIGIN from Latin quod vide, literally ‘which see.’

We can say that the meaning is something like "go to see...". Give a look at this book.

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I know you asked for "when should I use it", I'm looking for some book examples... :) I'll edit the answer as soon as I find something. –  Alenanno May 13 '11 at 14:50
Per your comment in another answer, Why can't c.f. be used in these cases? –  Pacerier Aug 1 '14 at 9:29

Use q.v. when your text names a work or an author and you think the reader might benefit from consulting that source.

As Buckley wrote in God And Man At Yale (q.v.), ...

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cf. stands for the Latin word confer (not the Italian confronta), and means "bring together", or more loosely translated, "hold what I just said next to this other thing". For example: "We shouldn't eat dogs, because they are cute (cf. rabbits)."
q.v. generally means something more along the lines of, "I talk more about this over here", or "if you don't know what this means, this other book is a good introduction." EXAMPLE: In David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest", the deliberately over-academic footnotes (and footnotes on the footnotes) are full of "q.v."s, generally used ironically to emphasize trivial information about the novel's fictional future US/Canada/Mexico supernation O.N.A.N. For example, a lengthy footnote #24 lists all the experimental films made by the protagonists' father, and is frequently referred back to in later footnotes as these films appear in the plot. "Wayne's not-to-be-fucked-with papa eventually litigated the kid's segment out because the film had the word Homo in the title, q.v. note 24."

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Hm, I don't like any of these answers.

q.v. (quod vide) is best translated into Modern English as "see also" and should be used when the reference is a continuation or expansion of the current subject.

c.f. (con ferro) is best translated as "compare with" and should be used when the reference is an analogue to the subject-at-hand, presenting a similar paradigm or otherwise analogous subject matter.

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You’ve basically said nothing in this answer that has not already been said, except to give an incorrect etymology of cf. (not c.f., which means ‘carried forward’ in accounting) and state that q.v. is for “when the reference is a continuation or expansion of the current subject”, which is not necessarily true. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 17 '14 at 11:36

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