AD is Latin – BC is English

Someone asked a question: Why is AD a Latin abbreviation, but BC is an English one?

This is a very good question. I checked out the abbreviations, and came across several explanations. AD stands for Anno Domini, or in the year of our Lord (Lord being Christ). BC is short for the English Before Christ.

AD1 started to be used around the 6th century AD by Dionysius Exiguus when he created a method of calculating the “correct” timing of Easter in a given year. Dionysius was a monk who crafted a table of dates to replace the ones then-currently in use, Diocletian years. Diocletian was a persecutor of Christians, and Dionysius didn’t want Diocletian’s name used as the basis for the determination of the date of Easter each year. The switch from anno Diocletiani to anno Domini was used throughout Europe within a few decades.

BC started to be used in English in 731 AD, with the publication of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. But, Bede was English, so other nations use different abbreviations, in their own languages. For example, Germans use v. Chr. (vor Christus) the way an English-speaking person uses BC2. Spanish speakers would use a.C. (Latin American speakers) or a. C. (European speakers). Both stand for antes de Cristo3.

So, there you have it: AD is from the time of the Romans, and is thus more universal. BC (or any other abbreviation) came on the scene later, after the Roman Empire had splintered, so those abbreviations ended up in the various languages of Europe.

Two other abbreviations have come upon me recently, so I’ll add them to this question.

AM stands for Anno Mundi, or the year of the world. This would be the number of years since the creation of the world.

a.C.n. stands for ante Christum natum, which is Latin for before the birth of Christ. It was used by some in the western arm of Christianity. But, general acceptance of a term for the pre-Christian era (i.e. BC) didn’t start to grow until the nations of Europe were already breaking up along language and people-group boundaries.

Thank you for the question, Badger257!

  1. Robert Coolman in a LiveScience online article, May 9, 2014.
  2. From Collins Dictionary.
  3. Thought Co. spanish abbreviations.

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