Before we move on: I was told that one of the CES students detests these CTs on proper writing. I find it interesting that something as valuable as writing, and correct writing, by which we communicate the gospel would be undesirable to Bible and theology students. This student notwithstanding, I shall continue to deal with various writing issues from time to time in the sincere hope that our CES students will grow from them and become better communicators of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I am simply amazed at how many well-educated people think that the term "etc." is a catch phrase for nearly everything.
I cannot count the number--hundreds, perhaps thousands--of times that students have used the term "etc." incorrectly.
Many students (and many writers) have the idea that when they are giving a list, any list, they can just end it with "etc." to show that there are more items that they would list, but they don't want to list them all. Folks, that is not the proper use of "etc."
Let's look at the meaning and use of this term and then let us all "vow" to use it correctly from now on.
ETYMOLOGY: The term "etc." comes from the Latin, and it is short for "etcetera: "et" means "and" + "ctera" means "the rest"
Since "et" means, "and," you would not put the word "and" before etc. Otherwise, it would be the same as saying "and and the rest."
Next, "etc." means "other unspecified things of the same class " or "and so forth." It is not a sort of "catch all."
Example of incorrect:
"Bring sandwiches, a hammer, tape recorder, etc."
Why does "etc." not work here? Simple: these are not items of the same class . What does a toothbrush, hammer, and a tape recorder have in common? What possible "same class" could these items belong to? And, if someone left this note for you, what would you think to bring along that would fulfill the "etc" portion of the list?
So, as the reader, I do not have to already know everything in your "etc.," but I should have a strong clue as to what the "etc." includes because of the class, or type of items that you have listed.
Example of correct: Let's say you are a sports fisherman, and your friend leaves you a note that says,
"Hey buddy, I'll pick you up at 5 am to go fishing. Be sure to bring your fishing pole, tackle box, etc., for our day out fishing."
This is a possible "pass" on the use of the term "etc." You know how to fish; you know what it takes to catch fish; you have been fishing many times before, and your friend has listed two things in the same class of items, things you use to go sports fishing, and so you have a very good idea what things are included in his use of "etc."
Example of wrong: "Dad was upset at the plumber, mom got a new job, Bobby got an "A" on his spelling exam, etc."
Example of right: "Galatians chapter five says that, 'the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc.'"
Here, the class is identified, "the fruit of the Spirit."
In brief, if your list of items are not in the same class, do not use "etc." to indicate unnamed items.
In, The Elements of Style , by William Strunk, Jr., the author helps clarify the use of the term "etc."
Etc. Not to be used of persons. Equivalent to and the rest, and so forth , and hence not to be used if one of these would be insufficient, that is, if the reader would be left in doubt as to any important particulars. Least open to objection when it represents the last terms of a list already given in full, or immaterial words at the end of a quotation.
At the end of a list introduced by such as, for example, or any similar expression, etc. is incorrect.
Let's look at his comments a bit more closely at Mr. Strunk's words:
1. Not to be used if the reader would be left in doubt as to any important particulars.
NOTE: So, even if your list of items are in the same class, you still do not use "etc." to indicate the unnamed items if your reader is unfamiliar with those unnamed items.
2. Least open to objection when it represents the last terms of a list already given in full, or immaterial words at the end of a quotation.
I had to smile when I read this one. Note that Mr. Strunk says, " Least open to objection. " In other words, the improper use of "etc." is objectionable! I agree. It is.
However, it is least objectionable when the term "etc." represents the last terms of a list already given in full . This should leave your reader with no doubts whatsoever. If the reader is not sure what the "etc." stands for, he/she can simply refer back to the full list of items that you have given previously in the same work.
3. If you introduce a list by the phrases, "such as," or "for example," or any similar expression , then the use of "etc." at the end of that list is wrong.
Oh, one last point, you do not use multiple "etc." at the end of a list either, etc., etc., etc.
Well, that's it for now, I have to get myself ready to preach this morning at a local church,
and prepare for a birthday party that we will have later in the day, and etc., etc., etc.
(Yes, my use of "etc." is WRONG!)
For those of you who might be interested: I have produced a lecture series on audio with notes. I cover the basics of good writing, grammar, punctuation, and more. I've had people with Master's degrees and PhDs go through these lectures, and some of them told me that they learned more on this subject from my lectures and notes than they had from all of their previous education combined. You can listen to the lectures for free and downlaod the lecture notes as PDFa files (for free) at CES Writing Protocols Lectures.
Send comments about this, or any, Coffee Talk to Rick Walston at: CES - @ - ColumbiaSeminary.edu
(Please note that you will need to take out the spaces and hyphens before and after the @ sign . . . this is placed this way to avoid spam emails.)