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The phrase "pros and cons" is often used to weigh the positive and negative effects that would result from taking a particular course of action. When trying to explain to someone else why only actions (and not objects or people's reasons for doing things) have pros and cons [e.g. there are no pros or cons for grass; there are pros and cons for having grass], I realized that I have no idea why this seems to be the rule.

I have so far come to the conclusion that both "pro" and "con" are probably abbreviations, but I can't figure out what they are abbreviations of. Does anyone know? How does this create the usage rules detailed above?

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    I'm doubtful about this usage 'rule' you state that only actions can have pros and cons... perhaps it does exist in some style manual out there, but I've never seen it and I wouldn't bat an eye if someone asked me about the pros and cons of grass. Regardless, these words come from Latin prepositions. I doubt this has any bearing on this 'rule'. – DallaLiyly Feb 22 '14 at 6:36
  • @MunchyWilly All right, give a pro and a con for grass that isn't actually a pro or con for an action related to grass – ksoo Feb 22 '14 at 6:38
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    Grass looks nice - that's a pro. Assuming you dislike having to mow grass, then having to tend it in that way is a con. In standard American English, pros and cons are no different than benefits and drawbacks. Things have these properties, not actions. Discussing the pros and cons for grass is nonsensical, discussing the pros and cons of grass is totally okay. – DallaLiyly Feb 22 '14 at 6:51
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    In Latin “pros and cons” is a shortening of “pro et contra”, which means “for and against”. (WP); Etymology 16th Century: from Latin prō for + con, from contrā against (WordReference) – Kris Feb 22 '14 at 7:07
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Pro is not an abbreviation, but 'con' is for 'contra.' From the OED:

An argument or consideration in favour of something; reasoning in support of a proposition, thesis, etc. Chiefly in pros and cons (also pros and contras): reasons or arguments for and against something, advantages and disadvantages. Occas. also pro and contra (also pro and con): argument, debate.

And the etymology of 'pro'

Etymology: < classical Latin prō (preposition) before (of place), in front of, for, on behalf of, instead of, in return for, on account of, etc. < the same Indo-European base as ancient Greek πρό forward, before, in front of, earlier than, Sanskrit pra- forth, Early Irish ro- , prefix forming the perfect tense, Gothic fra- , verbal prefix (see discussion at for- prefix1), ultimately showing an ablaut variant of the Indo-European base of fore adv. In English use chiefly after pro and contra at pro adv. 1a and related uses of pro adv.

Arguably 'pro' could be considered an abbreviation for 'prove' in this specific idiom as evidenced by earlier usages of the idiom such as Letters and Papers of J. Shillingford:

The Bysshoppis Court what court he hadde and sholde have, here of was right moche longage and reson prove and contra.

From my own knoweldge of Latin I'd say the phrase 'pro et contra' might mean 'for and opposing' or 'for and against' which means that the translation of the roots is almost identical to the modern understanding of the idiom.

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Hmm...Remembering my 1st year Latin brings to mind "quid pro quo", "pro tempore" (as in mayor pro tempore for instance), "pro bono" etc., you get the idea. It seems that in Latin, pro can be a stand-alone word meaning "for", and in the case of words like "proconsul" (the shortened form of "pro consule", meaning (one acting) for the consul), or "pronomen" (for, in place of, name) (the Latin form of pronoun). In either case the general meaning and usage is "for" or "in place of"...

Its also obviously, a colloquial abbreviation of "professional"...

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The phrase ‘pros and cons’ is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase pro et contra, ‘for and against’, and has been in use in the abbreviated form since the 16th century, according to the Oxford Dictionary Online.

  • I see no reason for a negative vote on this. – Jeff Morrow Oct 6 '17 at 1:30
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Pro stands for Proponent which I got from my debate teacher and I never knew what con meant until I saw a person that has the most current so I'm assuming its right

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