Plain Language Practice. With Zombies!

Zombie Cat by Nero-NeroI’ve been reading through some plain language resources over the last couple of days, which has inspired me to create a few before and after examples just for you. Before I get to the examples, a reminder that the goal of plain language is to make communication clear and accessible. For a full review of how plain language accomplishes that, you can read my post from last year, Getting to the Heart of Plain Language — or visit Plain Language Association International. Continue reading

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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