Et al. vs. etc. in a Zombie Apocalypse


Et al. vs. etc. in a Zombie Apocalypse

In my editing work, I run into Latin hand-me-downs regularly. I’ve already discussed the difference between e.g. and i.e., so today I’d like to talk about the difference between et al. and etc., as well as when and where to use them.

When you see et al. in a document, you are looking at the abbreviated version of the Latin words et alii, which literally mean and others. Those others are always people, not things. Et al. is common in academic citations, where it’s used to indicate other researchers in a study with three or more authors. So, if you wanted to discuss a study on the zombie apocalypse that had three or more authors, your in-text citations would look something like this:

  • In their study on zombie-slaying methods, Grimes et al. (2014) found chopping off the head to be the most effective.
  • Researchers discovered that playing soothing music was “about as effective as poking an angry wolverine with a stick” (Dixon et al., 2014, p. 13).

In contrast, etc. is the abbreviated version of the Latin words et cetera, which mean and other things. In this case, those other things are never people. This particular hand-me-down pops up all over the place, and is often used incorrectly. Etc. should be used to indicate a bunch of things that are too numerous to list in their entirety; it shouldn’t be used after only one item. Here’s an example of correct usage (if we assume the participants were lab rats and not people):

  • In the Darabont longitudinal study, the attrition rate was off the charts and included participants such as Herschel, Andrea, Merle, Amy, Phillip, Otis, etc.

Okay, here’s a better example of correct usage:

  • Research indicates there are a number of effective weapons for killing zombies, such as an axe, a sword, a chainsaw, a sledgehammer, a really heavy rock, a flamethrower, a cricket bat, etc.

And here’s an example of incorrect usage:

  • In an interview, Darabont said he initiated the study “to examine the long-term societal impacts caused by zombies, etc.”

So I’ll leave you with a question: if we use et al. for people and etc. for things, which one would you apply to a bunch of zombies?


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41 thoughts on “Et al. vs. etc. in a Zombie Apocalypse

  1. Can it be et al ? I’m thinking zombies are people.It can be etc., too if it’s a drink.
    ,or it can be et al or etc.,depending on how we use it.

  2. If Zombies are ‘things’, then maybe we’re being unkind to assume they’re ‘people’, et al?
    By the way, LOVE the new WordPress Theme!

  3. You’re fabulous! True talent to present grammar in the context of zombies. I think I’ll have my son read this, too.
    On another note, reading your words immediately brought back memories from high school. Yes. I’m so old that I took Latin. If it was nice outside, we’d march to conjugation clusters: hic haec höc huius huius huius This was long before we worried about zombies 🙂

    1. Thanks Michelle! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

      My Dad took Latin in school too and he has similar memories. I suspect all his talk about Latin conjugation made an impression on me as a child, hence my career path… 🙂

  4. That all depends on the definition of people. I don’t know overmuch about zombiedom, but I gather the condition is generally irreversible. So zombies used to be people, but not anymore; they’re more like killer robots or large mosquitoes. It’s definitely an interesting question. 😀

    1. I appreciate your thoughtful answer, Michael.

      Zombies as large mosquitoes. I like that analogy, especially given that my backyard is currently overrun with mosquitoes – which I’m going to refer to as tiny zombies from now on. 😀

  5. MINIONS! *ahem* I would say mash them up for ‘etc. al’ but that’s because I’m a rule breaker 🙂 Honestly, though, I love these posts of yours – this is a case where I’ve seen et al. numerous times and mostly figured it from context clues but was never confident that I knew exactly what it was.

    1. Tom, you are absolutely right! I got so caught up in my Walking Dead examples that I broke the rule. I suppose if you think of them as dead bodies, an argument could be made for etc., but that’s stretching it. Nice catch! 🙂

      1. It’s an interesting question of usage when dealing with zombies. I suppose if they were named Thonax, Zhogar and Xbilk, then an etc. might work, but even still names seem too human for the etc.

        1. I’m inclined to agree with you. It’s interesting that the names humanize them, at least in our minds.

          By the way, I’ve added a correct example for etc. that is explicitly a list of things. 🙂

  6. Nice lesson! (Enjoyed the etc. discussion in the comments above, as well.)

    Now, if you can get me straightened out on eg. vs. ie, I’d be forever grateful 🙂 I’ve looked it up online several times and think I “get” it, only to find out I don’t!

  7. LOL on “poking an angry wolverine with a stick.” Love this lesson! For the movie Warm Bodies, I’d have to say that the zombies were definitely et al. Interesting question! 🙂

  8. I’m happy to have found your blog, Suzanne. I teach College Writing online for a community college, and this will make a very useful link.

    1. Then you really need to buy her book, Jenn, The Eight Parts of Speech… A
      Grammar Ghoul Guide
      by Suzanne Purkis… She if far to humble to suggest, but I’m not!

  9. I think if a group, (Herd? Pod? Gang? Murder?), of zombies collaborate on a cited book or article, then et al. is appropriate. And I would hope the undead would be protected by existing copywrite laws. If one is listing the names of indivual zombies, etc. is correct. As in “I walked up the lane to the cemetary and was disturbed to see town’s original Smiths; Jebodiah, Rebecca, Isiah, etc., all victims of the consumption, lurching toward me. They appeared to be wearing the remains of the rancid clothes in which they died. Due to a fear of contagions, it was unbathed and un-costumed that our founding family were lowered into their “final resting place”.
    I still often see “ect.” in work communications, and I take a moment to let it go.
    I will have to look for your book. I can’t think of a better way to get my teenage son even more I interested in grammar.

      1. I just ordered your book! My son and I both love zombies, and catching one another in grammatical errors. A match made in heaven (or hell?).

        1. Definitely a great match, wherever it originated! I hope to have a similar relationship with my son when he gets older. (He certainly has no problem telling me I’m wrong!)

          Thanks for ordering my book – I hope you both enjoy it! 🙂

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