What Does "Videlicet" Mean?

G. Wiesen

The word “videlicet” is typically used to indicate that information that follows gives more specific information about what was provided earlier in a statement. For example, someone might use the term after making reference to a particular family, and then name the individual members of that family to provide additional information. In much the same way, the term can also be used to indicate that information presented after it is meant to clarify the meaning of a term referred to earlier in the statement. While “videlicet” is similar to terms such as id est (i.e.) and exempli gratia (e.g.), they cannot be used interchangeably.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Though often used as a legal term, the word “videlicet” carries much the same meaning in general usage as it does within legal contexts. It is often abbreviated in text uses as “viz.” in which case it is followed with a period to indicate the abbreviation. The word “videlicet” itself is something of a contraction of two Latin words, videre licet, which means “one may see” or “one is permitted to see.” In common and legal usage, the word and the abbreviation “viz.” are used as a conjunction, usually preceded by a coma, to join two clauses together in which the second clause expands through specificity upon the first.

A simple example of “videlicet” in use would be, “The Warrton family gathered together at the table, viz. Emily, Daniel, Samantha, and Cornelius.” In this example, the abbreviation is used and indicates that the names that follow are the specific names of the members of the “Warrton” family mentioned in the first clause of the sentence. When read aloud, the term “viz.” is typically replaced with a phrase like “as follows,” “to wit,” or “namely,” depending on what is most appropriate. “Videlicet” or its abbreviation can also be used to provide clarification such as “My argument, viz. that a species of miniature whales should be bred as pets, is yet to be refuted,” in which the clause following “viz.” clarifies the “argument” being referred to in the statement.

Due to its somewhat subtle meaning, the word “videlicet” and its abbreviation may be used incorrectly. Common terms used in somewhat similar contexts are the abbreviations “i.e.” and “e.g.” These terms all have roots in Latin and have been overused in some situations, which have made their meanings somewhat difficult to distinguish. While “videlicet” and “viz.” indicate specification is to follow, “i.e.” indicates the rephrasing of a point or main idea, while “e.g.” means that what follows are examples of the prior statement.

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