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I recently attended a "preparing for the job market" workshop for PhD students where the speaker instructed us in no uncertain terms that we should always refer to a "curriculum vitae" and never a "curriculum vita." Following the workshop, I made sure to replace all instances of "vita" with "vitae" on my website.

Today, though, the professor of a class I'm taking asked me why I had the word "Vitae" (on its own, without "Curriculum") on the menu of my website, suggesting that "Vita" might be more appropriate. I looked around this website to try to get some clarification and noticed not only that there didn't seem to be anything on this topic but also that some people use both spellings in the same sentence (e.g., "A 'vita' is just a short term for a curriculum vitae").

So, is it "vitae"? "Vita"? "Vita" when the word is on its own but "vitae" when it's "curriculum vitae"? Also, is there any reason (based in Latin or something else) for these distinctions?

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    for your website I suggest"CV", the standard abbrev. for curriculum vitae". Your prof is right, "Vitae" alone isn't quite right. – user61996 Sep 21 '16 at 23:13
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    This could have been answered by consulting a dictionary. I know, I am old-fashioned. – Carsten S Sep 22 '16 at 7:45
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about the proper use of Latin grammar and thus not specific to academia. – Cape Code Sep 22 '16 at 11:06
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    Oh dear...Romanes eunt domus. – J... Sep 22 '16 at 16:59
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    @MichaelHardy, thanks for the suggestion. However, while I appreciate the table of translations, I find AndreasBlass's answer to more succinctly get to the answer I'm looking for. Despite comments from Cape Code, Carsten S, and others, I'm more interested in language conventions within the academy than how these terms would appear in a dictionary or Latin grammar. Hard to pick between good answers, though :) – Spencer Greenhalgh Sep 22 '16 at 22:02
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Vita means life. Vitae is the genitive (possessive) form, of life. Curriculum means something like course. So Curriculum vitae means the course of one's life, and makes good sense. Vita by itself also makes good sense, though it's perhaps less accurate as a description of the document in question. Neither curriculum vita nor vitae without curriculum makes sense.

Addition, suggested by Patricia Shanahan: All the words in bold italic are Latin.

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    Not sure if it is worth adding but "vitae" is also the plural of "vita". So, one might say "I am reading the vitae (of the candidates for a job)" although I am rather doubtful if this is common. Though maybe more so than curricula vitarum? – quid Sep 21 '16 at 22:23
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    Absolutely, if you have to write or pronounce "CVs" (of multiple people) in full, it's "curricula vitarum". Or if it's multiple CVs belonging to one person, it's "curricula vitae". Which is why we just say "CVs". – Dawood ibn Kareem Sep 22 '16 at 3:22
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    Two things: 1) the complete form would be curriculum vitae et studiorum (course of your life and studies) 2) @quid The correct plural (in Latin) would be curricula vitae , not vitarum. Using vitarum would mean that each curriculum was about multiple lifes (i.e. persons). Then depending on the language you are using this term in it may simply be nideclinable (e.g. in Italian we never decline words from other languages, but some people still decline Latin words for no reason at all) – Bakuriu Sep 22 '16 at 6:24
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Sep 23 '16 at 12:10
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"Vita" is an American English term, synonymous with "Curriculum vitae".

If your web site targets only Americans, then "Vita" is fine as a label. If you wish to appeal to an international audience, you'd be better to call it a "CV".

The phrase "Curriculum vita" is an error, and makes no sense. That's what the speaker at the workshop was telling you.

About the pluralisation - my instinct would have been to give "vitas" as the plural of "vita" (on the grounds that if it doesn't mean "life", it's not Latin, and therefore shouldn't get a Latin-sounding plural). However, Merriam-Webster gives the plural as "vitae". Since Merriam-Webster is a greater authority on American English than I am, I defer to its judgement. I am not a native speaker of American English.

The origin of this term appears to be the Latin "vita", meaning "life". Just to clarify the variations on this term in Latin ...

life           = vita
life's         = vitae
life's course  = curriculum vitae
life's courses = curricula vitae
lives          = vitae
lives'         = vitarum
lives' courses = curricula vitarum

If I have multiple CVs on my computer, which I use when I apply for different types of job, these are "curricula vitae", because only one life is involved.

If I have multiple CVs on my desk, because I am about to interview several applicants for a job, these are "curricula vitarum", because they are the courses of several lives.

Update

In response to someone asking me to support my claim that "vita" is an American English term.

"Vita" is found in Merriam-Webster, which is the canonical dictionary of American English. It is not found in the Oxford English Dictionary, which is the canonical dictionary of Commonwealth English (the edition I checked was published in 1971).

Most tellingly though, it is found in Oxford's online dictionary, where it is labelled as US.

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    This answer will be improved if it is clearly explained that the difference is a result of the grammatical structure of Latin. – March Ho Sep 22 '16 at 11:43
  • Wouldn't both stack of your CVs and stack of your employees' CVs be translated as curicula vitae, because each CV contains one life's description? I'd decompose curiculum vitarum as description of lives, for example chronicle of one House (for example House of Windsor). Several chronicles would be curicula vitarum. – Crowley Sep 22 '16 at 14:48
  • @Crowley that's the same discussion as on the other answer, but maybe it is more fitting here. If we take up the analogy brought up by somebody that agrees with you then let us check. The wheel of the bike. The wheels of the bike. The wheels of the bikes. If there is more than one bike involved you'll use the last (though each wheel is of a unique bike). Thus, if there is more than one life involved you do the same. Contra the claim made. But I consider it as plausible that it should still be curricula vitae (maybe as it's "essential one word" I don't know the actual grammatical notion). – quid Sep 22 '16 at 15:05
  • The Oxford English Dictionary, nowadays, reports both BrE and AmE. In my version (the smartphone app), it reports: "vita > noun US a curriculum vitae". – Massimo Ortolano Sep 22 '16 at 19:03
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    Yes, theoretically it could. I only gave the English parallel to clarify what I was talking about, not to prove that it must be the same in Latin. It seems that we've strayed a long way from the point of Spencer's original question, which was whether to use "vita" or "vitae" on the menu of his web site. Thanks for asking the question on the Latin site. I have upvoted it, and we'll wait to see what the experts think. – Dawood ibn Kareem Sep 22 '16 at 22:32
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The others have already explained the latin, but if you're still looking for what short word to put in your menu instead of "Vitae", I'd like to suggest just 'CV'.

  • Another option is using the 'æ' grapheme at the end, like so: "Curriculum vitæ". This is also valid and shows interest in latin ligatures, given the archaistic nature of the term. More conservative or classic reviewers will appreciate this detail, particularly if coming from the humanities, as it is often the case (i.e: psychologists and others). Under no circumstances is "Vita" to be used, for the same reason. Also do remember that the plural form is: "Curricula vitarum". – Alfonso F R Sep 28 '16 at 16:03
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Also, I would like to add that most people doesn't construct the correct plural form for "Curriculum vitae". While they write "Curriculums" the correct construction for more than one CV is "Curricula vitarum"

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    In Latin it may be, but in English plurals are formed by adding an 's' at the end of the word. – user9646 Sep 23 '16 at 7:06
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    @NajibIdrissi the plural in English of curriculum is curricula and not curriculums. At least this is what my spell checker thinks, some dictionaries give both. But I think the former is more common. [Whether it's vitae or vitarum is less clear.] – quid Sep 23 '16 at 7:41
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    @quid Both are used. If you look in a dictionary (e.g. Merriam Webster), you'll see both forms (there's even a short passage about it on that webpage). IMHO it makes no sense to use the original plural for some words but not all (when you go to a pizzeria, do you order pizzas or pizze?) and besides it causes confusion sometimes (like the infamous ""scenarii"", ""viri"" or ""octopi""), so I never use them since both forms are acceptable. – user9646 Sep 23 '16 at 7:46
  • And in any case since both forms are correct, this answer is at the same time pedant and wrong, not a very good combination. – user9646 Sep 23 '16 at 7:53
  • @NajibIdrissi yes, as I said in my comment. Though it was not in the original version. Sorry about that. But then your first comment is misleading too, so I guess we are even. :-) And, the dictionary gives -a as plural and only as "also" the +s. What is common in a language is to a large extent determined by usage. Do you say datums or data? – quid Sep 23 '16 at 7:54

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