Please cf. The Chicago Manual of Style

Thanks to my dissertation director, I have become a bit of a snob when it comes to the proper formatting of footnotes and the like. The other day, I remarked to him that I feel as if I am under some sort of curse…I can no longer just read a book without noticing the author’s mistakes (and if you pay attention, most authors make a lot, especially when documenting sources is concerned). He chuckled as if to say, “infuriating, isn’t it?”

One of the pet peeves that he and I share is proper usage of the abbreviation “cf.” It stands for the Latin confer (imp. of conferre), which means “bring together.” In academic prose, it means “compare,” with the implication that what you’re comparing is different from that which you’re comparing it to (see the Chicago Manual of Style [16th ed.] 14.37).

Many biblical scholars like to employ it as a garish substitute for “see,” which has apparently become passé. The tendency is so prevalent that it’s even mentioned on Wikipedia (in the entry for cf.):

“While the use of cf. for “see” is widespread, usage guides consider it incorrect. Nevertheless, it is common, especially when used for Biblical citations.”

Vanity of vanities! The consequences, of course, are disastrous (well, maybe not disastrous, but I love drama).

Take the following example (which I made up):

“God loves the world a lot” (cf. John 3:16).

When used in this manner, it means:

“God loves the world a lot” (contrary to what John 3:16 would have you believe).

Used properly:

“God exists” (cf. Richard Dawkins).

Translated:

“God exists” (Richard Dawkins does not agree).

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