Wikipedia defines Ceteris paribus as:

a Latin phrase meaning "with other things the same" or "other things being equal or held constant".

It has always struck me as strange that we (primarily Economists, but it crops up elsewhere too, usually in academia) need a Latin phrase to stand in for the seemingly clear English statements the definition provides. To me, it has always obfuscated more than it clarifies.

I'm curious why this phrase is used, if there is an advantage to using it over one of the equivalent English phrases, and in particular would love to see examples where ceteris paribus conveys the author's intent more clearly than the alternatives might.


I suppose I should clarify; there are certainly many usages of Latin throughout modern English, however generally speaking these usages are more concise, or describe a concept that doesn't directly map to English. Perhaps it is simply my perception, but ceteris paribus has always struck me as more confusing than the equivalent English.

For example, there's not (much of) a difference between etc. and and so on, but the former is both more concise and in common usage.

I'm asking if there's a clear distinction or reason for using ceteris paribus, if the answer is "Nope, it's just so you can sound smarter / demonstrate you're in the I-know-what-this-means club" that's fine by me, I just didn't want to assume that.

  • As opposed to exempli gratia vs. for example or id est vs. that is (to say) or et cetera vs. and so on? It's Latin. That's usually reason enough to use something in itself, of nothing else then just to sound fancy. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 10 '15 at 0:35
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: "eximplia gratia" — are you on a break? Or are you just teasing a poor Latin-CDO person who you knew would read this? – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Mar 10 '15 at 0:36
  • @Cerberus Gah! A butterfinger break. Phone typing and trying to catch all my typos while typing doesn't always work so well. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 10 '15 at 0:38
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: Perhaps you should install a Latin keyboard dictionary on your telephone. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Mar 10 '15 at 0:41

It is not in itself clearer than any of the phrases your mentioned. But it is internationally recognised and has a fixed, established meaning that everyone recognises immediately. The very fact that it is Latin alerts the reader that it is a special term with a fixed meaning, which is convenient, ceteris paribus. The same applies to other terms, such as a priori, mutatis mutandis, and alea jacta est.

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