LawProse Lesson #268: The two-word Latinism making a solid abbreviation.

Can you think of a common two-word Latin phrase that gets solidified in its abbreviated form? You might cite per centum (per 100) vs. percent—and that’s a fair answer. But perhaps the strangest is et cetera, which becomes etc. (= and other things). The old-fashioned form of it, predominant from 1700 to 1850, is &c. (using an ampersand), which originated as a ligature of et. Today it’s almost invariably etc.

Five other things about etc.

First, it’s silly to think the term should be banned. If a list is necessarily incomplete, etc. can be a handy way to signal that fact. General semanticists like the open-ended nature of the term—so much so that since 1943 the journal of the Institute for General Semantics has been called Etc.

Second, don’t ever use *and etc. (the asterisk signals nonstandard usage). It’s redundant—and grating to certain people. Instead, use a comma before etc. when it’s the final item in a list .

Third, it’s pronounced /et set-uh-ruh/, not /ek/.

Fourth, because it’s considered a thoroughly anglicized expression, don’t italicize etc. (For that matter, don’t italicize i.e. or e.g.) Now if you’re wondering why all those terms are italicized in the preceding two sentences—emphasizing that they shouldn’t be italicized when appearing in normal sentences—it’s because they’re terms being referred to as terms. You could add the words “the expression” before each italicized term in this paragraph.

Finally, don’t use etc. for people. It’s wrong to say *Bob, Alice, Jill, etc. The term for people is et al., the abbreviation for et alii or et aliae (= and other people)—without a period after et.

That’s all, folks. Class dismissed. Ride over. Etc.

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