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Friday, October 28, 2016

EwR Commentary - PART 3: The Expendable Use of the Word "Et cetera" (Etcetera or Etc.)


There are many people who use the abbreviation "etc." for the word "etcetera" in their writing.  Some people even use this word during speech.  Are you one of those people who uses the word "etcetera" all the time?  Have you ever asked yourself why you do it?  Maybe after you read this you will never use this word again.  In order to contemplate why you might hesitate to use either the word "etcetera" or its abbreviation "etc.", let's reflect upon the three following relevant pieces of information: (1) the origin, definition and usage of the word "etcetera"; (2) the reason why so many people use this word and its abbreviation; and (3) alternatives that exist in order to avoid using the word "etcetera" (etc.).

Last of all, let's discover what alternatives exist in order to avoid using the abbreviation "etc." and its full form ("etcetera" or "et cetera")An important observation here is to note that this word and its abbreviation are usually not even taught in schools to begin with.  Teachers frown upon its usage, and especially on the teaching of abbreviations like "etc.".  Since this is the case, we have alternatives available to us so that we don't use either of them in the first place.  Here are some alternate options.

Remember that "etc." is used in order to say "and so on" when you are writing (or saying) a list of things that all belong to the same category.  Let's recall the example that was used above in the fourth paragraph - "I bought some pears, apples, etcetera / et cetera / etc. at the grocery store".  If you are talking to someone who knows that you always buy pears, apples, oranges and grapes, then you can say "I bought some pears, apples, etcetera at the grocery store".  This person knows that "etcetera" means "and so on", which in this case means "oranges and grapes".  However, if you are talking to someone who doesn't know this habit of yours, then you should simply identify all of the fruits that you buy, and avoid using the word "etcetera" at all.  Therefore, you would say "I bought some pears, apples, oranges and grapes at the grocery store".  In other words, be specific and name exactly what items you bought.  Don't be vague and say "etcetera" in order to be more brief.  The objection here is that the usage of "et cetera" is not explicit enough, and therefore should be avoided by all means.  It confuses the listener or reader since they don't know you well enough to understand what "etcetera" means to you in this particular case.

Keep in mind that conscientious writers avoid using acronyms and abbreviations like "etc." in their written text.  Instead, they use more precise wording at the end of a list, and write "for example", "including" or "such as".  The list of items in any particular category is not left open-ended.  In fact, it's limited to a specific number of items.  This way of writing avoids any misunderstandings for the reader.  The writer's message is easily understood and properly communicated with clear ideas.  There is no room for misinterpretation, as is the case in the above example about the four fruits that were bought; namely, pears, apples, oranges and grapes.

Another way that writers prevent using the abbreviation "etc." is to include a finite list of items from their category of things and precede it with the abbreviation "e.g.", which is Latin for "exempli gratia" and means "for example".  The usage of an abbreviation here is an exception that is widely used by all writers in formal writing.  For example, if you were to write a message to someone using the above example with the list of different fruits, you could write "I bought some fruit (e.g., pears, apples, oranges and grapes) at the grocery store".  Notice that the abbreviation "e.g." is followed by a comma in order to separate it from the list of different items in the same category, which in this case are different kinds of fruit.

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