The psychology of ‘pp’

Have you noticed how the details of every book go like this: ‘Book title, 246+xix pp.’ ? However, in no place will you ever find ‘pp’ expanded. I have always tried to figure out what it meant – Google does not give satisfying answers (maybe I’m bad at googling). Printed pages? most likely, but how am I to know? Is it such common knowledge that everyone knows about it and I have my own deficient childhood to blame? If it is something simple, why won’t people expand the blessed acronym?

If you will notice this is not peculiar to the book publishing industry. There seems to be an explosion of ‘specialist words’ – things that only those in the hallowed circles of extremely specialised knowledge have access to them. It is not that there are no substitutes that everyone understands: it is just that some words become so ingrained that their usage is unconscious. Speaking to anyone outside your professional circles freely has become completely impossible. In fact, our capacity to communicate our entire experience to another person has almost completely disappeared. We always have a part of our lives (sometimes called ‘work’) that you cannot share with anyone else, even though it occupies most of our time. Most conversations with more than 3 people eventually degenerates into politician-sportsman-actor bashing.

Whoever thought that English would tend to homogenize cultures got it wrong, or atleast underestimated the power of division of labor to recreate a Babel using English itself. Forget about variants like Hinglish or Kanglish, you have Compglish, Mathglish, Bioglish and people speaking a particular dialect find it extremely hard to understand what the other speaks, and realises too late that a particular joke will fall flat simply because the others don’t speak your language. It may not be long before speakers of different language become an endogamous (bet you need to google that up!) group and split into different species simply because they are more comfortable with their own kind.

The rate at which this ‘speciation’ is happening is amazing: a couple of generations ago, father and son could have arguments because they shared a vocabulary. Forget arguments, nowadays it is almost impossible for our parents to have a decent conversation with us. Earlier there was very little need for people to know another language unless they left their country. Nowadays, you need to learn two or three languages just to get out of the 12 standard, and by the time you are done with a PhD, the only person understanding your humor will be you.

Will it be possible for people to empathise more with others? Will there come a day when it will be impossible to share your lived experience with another human being? How will human bonds endure such restrictions in shared experience, possibly limiting shared experiences to common biological functions? You already notice houses are no longer common areas – there is my room, your room and everybody tacitly respects it, probably after a few embarrassments. We are already replacing humaneness with etiquette. Our notions of forward movement seem to ultimately lead us to ultimate loneliness even in the midst of a crowd. Who cares? after all, Facebook is always there.

73 thoughts on “The psychology of ‘pp’”

  1. Too funny — as I read your entire post, I was thinking to myself … “yes, homogenized — to their core so they can be shared on Facebook or Twitter, in which we have a limited number of characters to reflect our most pressing thoughts, which are almost always concerning football or Glee!”

    Good post. Interesting insights. Scary possibilities. :)

    1. Well, Crystal, do you enjoy blogging?

      I can imagine so; however, the word “blog” itself was originally jargon until the web-blog achieved ubiquitous status. I can imagine that you don’t use the term web-blog anymore. Now it’s just blog.

      My point? Like it or not, jargon is everywhere, and is not always indigenous a specific group. Sometimes terms spread. It’s just that there comes a time when these terms spread to such a broad proportion that they are no longer considered jargon, but everyday language.


  2. I never think about what any of those letter mean since I’m so unscientific I’ve basically convinced myself that all technology is created by magic unicorns and hobbits. It really simplifies everything. How does google work? Magic unicorns. How do they make cookies? Magical elves in the forest. Fortunately I’m a history teacher so I can pass on these important explanations to the next generation.

    1. Hmm…that would certainly make teaching science a whole lot easier. “Why is the sky blue?” “Magic unicorns Timmy…they fart rainbows and the rainbows have a special fairy dust that remains in the sky for years to come. Whenever the sun comes out, it reflects off of the fairy dust, and it turns a beautiful blue! That’s why it’s grey when the sun is not out…fairy dust from farts doesn’t look very nice…”

      The scary thing is, there is some truth to that. Well…not the unicorn farts part…

      1. *giggling*…. It would make LIFE in general a whole lot easier… Oh the possibilities….

        ‘Mummy, where did I come from?’

        ‘Well sweet heart… there was this group of magical elves in the forrest…..’

  3. Like it when a writer is able to put a feeling/niggling thought of mine into words giving me a slightly different slant on it. Oh and I did look it up, good word! I’ll be using that in a sentence … soon.
    Thanks Joy

    1. I myself didnt have the benefit of learning that, but that being the case.. why on earth are they using 2 ‘p’s rather than pg.. or even the full word ‘pages’ – its only 3 letters longer.

      Where the other ‘p’ comes from’ I have no idea. p2 – as in p to the second power cause its multiple pages? No sense!

      1. Well, I can’t say this for sure – it’s just a theory that popped into my head – but in Spanish when you have a plural word that’s abbreviated you repeat the letters to show that – for example, “Estados Unidos” (United States) is EEUU, not EU. Maybe that rule is originally from Latin and that’s how “pages” became “pp” in English?

        Otherwise, though, I know exactly what you mean. I was trying to tell my mother about my work and used the term “prehistoric site.” For her, this meant that I might be talking about dinosaurs, when I was using it in the specific anthropological sense of “prior to writing” – a sense I would have never landed on prior to my studies…

        Still, I don’t give up hope. There’s plenty of things we, in general, can connect about – sometimes we just have to look for those things that don’t need words to do so.

      2. I was taught to use pp. for “pages.” My way of remembering it is “Plural Pages.” I think that the abbreviation “pgs.” is not much of an abbreviation for pages. (Only two letters are omitted and a punctuation mark is added!)

  4. You raise some interesting points, but I don’t I agree with all of it. I think that to a degree it *is* that there’s no substitutes for these specialist words that everyone understands, because the word is short-form for a concept (or are acronyms for a word or phrase). I think it can be explained, but as with the acronym being explained by a word or phrase, the word has to be explained by a paragraph, so to speak. I think it is possible to explain your entire experience to a person. It takes time, that’s all. And I can’t agree that it’s impossible to have a decent conversation with one’s parents.

    I also think pp might mean “pages.” It does in the APA and Chicago style guides, anyway. But I can see why that isn’t common knowledge – there’s tons of acronyms etc. that other people seem to know that I do not.

    1. I’m not saying specialist words are bad – I use a hell of a lot of them myself. The point is that usage becomes unconscious after sometime and _that_ makes people incomprehensible to others. If you are context sensitive enough to switch from acronym to paragraphs, fine. But you will notice that it is increasingly becoming difficult to do the switch even if you are sensitive enough – you simply have to exclude stuff about yourself when you are in a heterogenous group.

      In a place where change is happening at an incredible rate (like urban India, from where I come), believe me when I say parents and kids cannot connect fully. It is hard to relate to my parent’s idioms and language (which has a distinctly rural tinge). Should be easier in the coming generations, just not this one.

  5. Hi, Good post and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed by WordPress!

    My two cents on pp – my understanding is that it is pages plural, so p is page and pp is pages. It’s also used quite extensively across academia etc

    And I think there are two-way forces continually on human culture, language and connection. Both to fragment and to coalesce. At the moment we have mass “Coca Cola” culture like never before but we also have all sorts of tiny specialist groupings springing up everywhere joined by the web but disconnected to others. Coalescing and fragmenting at the same time.

  6. Very interesting. Favorite quote: Most conversations with more than 3 people eventually degenerates into politician-sportsman-actor bashing.

    So true. Speaking of, have you read the latest US Weekly?

    Jk. (But I have) I think the silly stuff is okay in doses, as long as we pay attention to the serious too.


  7. As someone who works in the planning world, I certainly have to utilize plenty of planning specific jargon, and even more planning specific acronyms. Its pretty maddening, actually. However, I never thought of “pp” as anything unusual. Maybe its because I’ve always been an avid reader, it was obvious that it meant “pages”, as in page count.

  8. This is an interesting read.

    I agree that we have come to wherein we seem to speak different languages.
    This is true even in our home, where I tend to take time explaining computer stuff to my parents just so I could share what I know.

  9. This is a great and amusing post!
    Thanks for remind me about how funny and interesting we are in our evolution, particularly in defining ourselves through speciation of language. Now, I think language is not only about different ethnics and cultures. Even with folks with same background and same age, I might as well find ourselves lost in language. Language is about our life stories, and that means various things are communicated through various communication codes.

  10. well, i do agree with you but i think that you are being too hard on the language or the way people use it. there are, certainly, misuses but one has to keep in mind that it is a way how language evolves. i bet that in the generation before ours, elders and the younger lot had the same problems while communicating. change seems hard, it is of course difficult, but it is also inevitable, therefore, it is best to be more accepting and adaptable.

  11. Intresting!!! Though i don’t agree that communication is getting impossible just because we use some jargon’s-I do not understand most of them and stop the person if possible to find out what it meant or I Google it up (includes the word endogamous) … I’m sure if you really want to communicate or convey something to someone you will take the effort to simplify it for them. If not its like you talk in English with a few Greek terms, if they are interested they might ask you or you yourself will feel the need to explain. Or else its perfectly normal to keep the clutter out which you really don’t need !

  12. I found this reference to the correct citing of references at

    It agrees with the method I was taught at school, ‘pp’ is used when the material is on a specific page or pages of the work being referenced. And as to the origin, some commentors have mentioned the Latin ‘paginae’ (pages), but nobody has explained why two P’s. Given that in using this you say – go look at pages 15-21 (for example), the Latin becomes rather obvious: per paginae.

    1. Actually, they have. Now we have two conflicting explanations, however: My impression is a plural form (“p. 15” and “pp. 15–20”). This is also similar to e.g. “LL. D.” for “Doctor of Law-s”.

      Anyone with a deeper knowledge of Latin or references?

      1. Wikipedia, o bastion of quasi-verifiable factoids, has an entry that offers this explanation:

        “In some languages, the convention of doubling the letters in the initialism is used to indicate plural words: for example, the Spanish EE.UU., for Estados Unidos (United States). This old convention is still followed for a limited number of English abbreviations, such as SS. for Saints, pp. for pages (although this is actually derived from the Latin abbreviation for paginae)….” []

        Of course, this is followed by the Wikigods’ commandment, “citation needed,” and there, I can’t yet help you. :)

      2. Further to my previous comment: On a different forum, a poster named “bibliophage” offered this explanation, complete with citation:

        I suspect this usage does derive from Latin. In English it’s usually a simple matter to add -s to pluralize the word. In Latin, there are many different plural endings, depending on case and declension, so it is simpler to double the first letter of the word, or for phrases, of the important word(s). The website shows that this method of forming the plural of abbreviations was not unknonw in Latin in Roman times (for example AA NN = Augusti Nostri = our emperors). It may be related to the doubling of the initial letter to express the superlative (ff=fortissimo, pp=pianissimo) but I can’t find evidence that this usage was common in Roman times.

        In modern English, these are some common examples for some words derived from Latin.

        c. = chapter (L. caput)
        cc. = chapters (L. capita)

        v. = verse (L. versus [short second “u”])
        vv. = verses (L. versus [long second “u”])

        p. = page (L. pagina)
        pp. = pages (L. paginae)

        ms. = manuscript (L. manu scriptum, a thing written by hand)
        mss. = manuscripts (L. manu scripta, things written by hand)

        LL.B., LL.D., or LL.M. = Bachelor, Doctor, or Master of Law (L. Legum Baccalaureus, Legum Doctor, Legum Magister, where legum is the genitive plural of lex, “a law”)

        q.v. = see which thing (L. quod vide)
        qq.v. = see which things (L. quae vide)

        Given that this appears on a discussion forum, I doubt it passes Wikipedia’s citation standards, but combine this with the website that “bibliophage” recommends, and the explanation seems sufficient to me.

  13. There have always been ‘shared world’ languages, be they dialect, language, work or hobby-related. Times don’t change. Shared-world language exists wherever there is a degree of specialism, even talking about facebook or cricket or a soap opera. I, for one, can’t take part in the ‘actor-sportsman-bashing’ because it is not my world. I don’t know the language – so I can’t ‘degenerate’ to this. Most people establish what their shared world is through conversation. I can’t talk to my brother about cricket, but I can talk about our home. This is why a lot of ‘small talk’ revolves around the weather. We all share it, and it’s non-invasive and non-personal. I don’t think it’s any different than it’s ever been. I could no more understand a Lancastrian 50 years ago talking about cricket than I could understand a room full of entomologists. Such is life. We become part of the shared world when we pick up the odd assortment of specialist nouns and other phrases.

    pp is fairly standard academic language, in the style of ibid, etc, e.g., N.B., and so on.

    1. Question is not about difference in kind – what you say is perfectly fine. It is more about degree. Is the ‘shared world’ shrinking? How strong can a relationship between say, a string theorist and a sociologist be?

      1. Depends what else they share. A string theorist and a sociologist might both talk English, like rugby, listen to the KOL, have been to Thailand, or be in love. The shared world grows as we age and as we travel. We have more in common, not less.

        We aren’t JUST our jobs.

      2. Yes, the idea there would be to stay committed no matter what, hoping that over time things improve. Compare this with say a farming community where this is extremely natural. To me, this is like the difference between a 180 proof liquor and a mellow wine – both may do the same at the end (maybe not ;), but one takes more effort to get in.

  14. Sorry, couldn’t understand a thing you were saying! LOL

    Seriously, though, I get your point. My thought, or take on this is: people do it deliberately. It’s another form of snobbery. Another way of, as you rightly point out, separating ourselves from one another. Oh, look at me and look at what I know — I’m much smarter/more intelligent than you, and to prove it I’ll use language that you can’t comprehend because you’ve got no context for it.

    As a writer one of the most valuable bits of advice I’ve gleaned along the way is: use simple language whenever possible. For instance, don’t say ‘masticate’ when ‘chew’ will do. I think that’s good advice for life.

    have a nice day and thanks for a good post.

  15. “We always have a part of our lives (sometimes called ‘work’) that you cannot share with anyone else, even though it occupies most of our time. ”

    Funny- isn’t it?

    Too much thinking…

  16. I enjoyed your thoughts. Ever since I finished my MA, I find that only a very small circle can understand my more complex expressions. Fortunately, there will always be the common language that existed before we became so artistic with our tongue. We will always be able to relate with each other’s suffering, even if we can’t explain it with words, and perhaps that’s all that matters.

  17. Interesting stuff, I think a lot of what you are dealing with – in terms of explaining exactly what we mean in ‘langue’ – can be answered by the work of firstly Ferdinand de Saussure, secondly Sigmund Freud – only his linguistic works though, and thirdly Jacque Lacan. All of these figures discuss at length how we can never fully express ‘meaning’ as a concrete signified term, because the very fact of there being a ‘signified’ meaning relies on the inter-relationship of signifiers – which in themselves are an arbitrary formulation of images and signs which relate to the outside world…
    I would encourage you to read Saussure in particular as he was the founding father of all things linguistic and structuralist..

    Nice piece.

  18. Whatever it really means, it is not my language :) It’s really random how you came from pp to another topic, who does that JK…

      1. I finally found out why there are two “P’s”. I didn’t even have to research it. I take Spanish classes and found out if they abbreviate something, they double it up. For example, the initials for the United States in Spanish is E. U. , but they don’t say that. They say E. E. U. U. So I assume it’s the same thing with “PP”… hope I’m right!

  19. “Nowadays, you need to learn two or three languages just to get out of the 12 standard, and by the time you are done with a PhD, the only person understanding your humor will be you.”

    True that!

  20. Hey that’s a great article! I love this kind of reflections.
    “Will there come a day when it will be impossible to share your lived experience with another human being?”
    Yes, when we’ll be ready to abandon ourselves. When we crack our self-centred identity. Communication, in someway, means leaving our ‘I’ and hosting a ‘you’.

    I have a blog in Italian

    Read you soon! :)

  21. Maybe you were absent that day in grammar school when you were supposed to learn that pp meant pages, then it being so simple there is no explanation anywhere…just sayin’ whenever I can’t figure why I don’t know the most simple thing, I say I must have been absent that day, but I’m serious in your case! I think it’s a given, not trying to be mean, it’s kind of common sense?

  22. I´m writing as a non-native english speaker, for I am Brazilian (so please try to oversee my bad writing). Here, we don´t use “pp” in order to refer to more than one page, but we use “s” after an indication of a page (like “p. 15s”, meaning “page 15 and the following) and “ss”, when we have to say that is page 15 and the followings, that is, at least to page 17. It´s the same pattern, probably from Latin, since Portuguese is a Latin based Language. (Btw, “s” stands for “seguinte”, wich means “following”)

    But really, it does not need a real effort for people who use to read. It´s not snobbery, as someone suggest, but a really commom and simple manner of making thinks simpler to readers. The reason is that we – and I speak of Americans, North, Central and South ones – do not have the same habits of reading in this internet-based-new-society, so simple things tend to seem harder than they really are. And it´s true of almost everything that is not present in the web.

    We really need to get back to books and slow down a little on the super-easiness of internet knowlegde. Or we´ll be leveled from the bottom.

    By the way, this is worth reading, and has everything to do with it:

    Have a nice week, everybody.

  23. Well you can’t really blame people for not being able to read minds and know that a ‘pp’ could annoy you, or that you wouldn’t be able to find out what it meant. I don’t know what pp means either, but it doesn’t bother me? Maybe that’s why no one ever expanded it, because no one else found it a problem – whether they knew what it meant or not.

    I absolutely concur with your views on conversational topics though, they revolve around the same things over and over again. Nevertheless, perhaps its not due to a communication breakdown than people trying to avoid talking about what they already spend most of their life on? Who wants to talk about work, really.

  24. Frankly, I never bothered to find out what pp stood for. Not curious enough, I guess. Strictly speaking, we need jargons within professional circles. Can’t really bother to write everything down for letter to letter. Yeah, for the outside-circle; you shall have the expanded forms. Scary but interesting and, it is a necessity to condense. Congrats on getting Freshly Pressed.

  25. The English language has always had it’s mysteries. I never even thought of looking for the meaning of “pp”. It really wasn’t ever in my “things to do” list. You can’t really blame anyone for not knowing it, only for the people who do and not post it anywhere. One thing is for sure, it never bothers me not knowing!

    Check this out if you adore and/or help animals.

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