Ceteris Paribus


Ceteris paribus is in my Pantheon of Phrases That Are Magical in Other Languages. Mostly I enjoy these phrases because they do two things at once: they say more than English can with the same number of syllables, and they are super fun in the mouth. Ceteris paribus is Latin and not church Latin, so it’s “KET-er-is PER-i-buss” and means “[all] other things being equal” (except way faster and SO FUN to say! And yes: related to et cetera, “and other things”). It has some rigorous meanings in economics, law, and philosophy, but I invite you to join me in using it outside the disciplines. Ceteris paribus, I prefer language monkey-business to language business-business.

Paribus is the ablative plural of pārequal.”* “Equ-” … Go ahead and boggle your mind with how many words you can think of that start there. Whee! A zillion.  Recently I was asked about my Current State, and the word that came was  “equilibrium” and then: “wait, what is a librium?!”


Yay, of course! Libra, scales, balance, woo hoo! Makes so much sense and I love these hidden-in-plain-sight etymological delights. What’s weird though is def. 3: indecision and doubt are not usually considered awesome, while mental neutrality or poise well could be, so I wonder whether this was a positive way to characterize your Current State or not. Maybe it was more acceptable to be indecisive in 1934, and if so, good for them.

Then, explicitly considering for the first time that of course all the equ- words out there contain some root in addition to equ-, I thought of another curious one: equanimity.

And it’s so good!



Animus! Mind! “Equal mind.” Love it. Thinking about the ways we use these two equ-‘s differently, though relatedly, I am going to posit equanimity as a category of equilibrium, such that equilibrium entails equanimity, and for me to be in true equilibrium, I’d need to be equanimous, but I could be equanimous without being in full equilibrium because I could have “equal mind” but have one hand in a bucket of ice water, or have shingles. Ceteris paribus, though, I use them pretty equivalently.


*”Equal”: Lately as I think and write more about trying not to be such an ass in this messy world, and about what messes most enrage or despond** me, I find myself using “equal” and “equality” gingerly. Because there’s also “equity,” and they are different, and the one I use needs to be intentional. The most accessible explanation I’ve heard of the difference between equality and equity is: public bathrooms. If an airport (say) has a men’s room with 5 stalls and a women’s room with 5 stalls, why, that’s equality! 5=5, duh. But since a men’s room with 5 stalls might hum along just fine, and a women’s room with 5 stalls might result in lines out the door and maybe some peed pants, equity might be a men’s room with however many stalls means no lines over 3 people long and a women’s room with however many stalls means no lines over 3 people long.  I still think this is a pretty good way to understand it (let’s add a bathroom that doesn’t require gender specificity), except that equity is used in talking about social justice, and it feels squishy and dangerous to bring in an analogy about biologically determined traits in the same conversation, because people who believe those outside the defined norm are not of equal worth often talk about it as a congenital thing–“women just don’t ___,” “immigrants are just so ___.” It seems like we need something like… X and Y are walking down the road. X has a hockey mask, found in the bushes. Mean Z approaches and says “I’m going to give the two of you a total of 10 punches in the face!” Equal is 5 punches each. Equitable is…well, we’d have to determine this in a lab with some sensors, hockey masks, a sparring robot, etc, but let’s say maybe 7 punches for X and 3 for Y.

When advocates for social justice use “equality” it connotes a few things…considered of equal worth, worthy of equal protection under the law, lives mattering equally. (Sub-note: This is why “#alllivesmatter” is a problem: yes of course all lives matter, but since, historically, Black lives were not considered to be included in “all lives” [see…everything in American history, but you could get a tidy math example with the Three-Fifths Compromise], pointing out that they do matter is a different thing and is not just a subset encompassed by “#alllivesmatter.” “All men are created equal” did not include Black men, indigenous men or any women in “all”. So “all” is some bullshit, historically, and “#alllivesmatter” isn’t a stronger version of #balcklivesmatter or #muslimlivesmatter. It’s weaker, when it doesn’t acknowledge that so many speakers over time and now do not use “all” to mean “all”.)   Ok, back to “Note”: and so the thing is, people who don’t believe all people’s lives matter equally and thus are uncomfortable with the idea of equity, wed as they are to the myth of America as a meritocracy where individual character strength and gumption is really all ya need, get to go: “wait, I thought you said everyone was equal… How can you say that? Look at men and women! Are you saying they are exactly the same? Are you stupid? Can’t you see the genitalia and this brain scan and this graph of hormones? I think you are stupid and I don’t have to listen to you, and that works out pret-ty well because I like things how they are, except I’d prefer to pay less in taxes.” (I’m paraphrasing). They use their misread of “equality” as “same in every respect” as an argument against equity, because if everyone’s the same then everyone getting what they need means everyone getting the exact same everything from this point forward, so how dare we advocate otherwise.

So I’ve started to use “equity” as a noun by itself, and try to use “equal” as an adjective in front of a noun, like “equal treatment, ” “equal representation,” et cetera,  or specify the domain of equality or inequality under consideration, like “political (in)equality.”

** “Despond”: I wanted this to be a word and it IS! Or, it WAS. Now it’s archaic (this doesn’t say so but google does), and the etymology is upsetting (the relationship to “spouse” part, see entry in Online Etymology Dictionary to get despondent about that) but who cares! I mean “sadden” and this is just better.


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