I hate “etc.,” “i.e.,” and “e.g.” You should, too. Here’s how to fix them.

Image: Grammarly

The wonderful thing about editing is that every day you discover a new pet peeve. My latest are the Latin-derived etc., i.e., and e.g. They annoy readers, they’re lazy, and you don’t need them.

What they all have in common is that, since they’re Latin, they’re supposed to make the writer sound more sophisticated, but instead, they just leave the reader puzzled. Let’s take these one at a time.

etc.

Etc. abbreviates et cetera, which is how you pronounce it. Literally, it means “and similar things, and so forth.” But what it actually means is “I could list more but I’m too lazy to do so; you detect the pattern.”

Here are some sentences I’ve edited that included “etc.”

Older people who have to give up driving, because of age, ailments, etc., have similar needs for affordable, safe, and convenient transportation.

Ideally, interview Round 4 is onsite with the three other interviewers and meeting the hiring manager casually for coffee, etc.

There are multiple training functions and audiences, such as compliance, leadership development, diversity, sales., etc

News angle: . . . Personal data in the Digital Economy: How the rise of Big Data to personalize product recommendations steers/impacts customers; privacy concerns, etc.

My problem with each of these is the same: the writer knows the list is not complete and wants to imply there are many more, but is unwilling or unable to provide enough to show you the pattern. As a result, you, the reader, are left to detect the pattern on your own. What other problems do old people have for giving up driving? What else happens in Round 4 other than a casual meeting? What other training functions and audiences are there? Are there actually other news angles? You’ll have to figure that out on your own, and “etc.” isn’t giving you any clues.

There are two simple ways to fix this.

The first is, if you want to imply there are more things in a list but haven’t got space to list them, just say “including,” “like,” or “such as.” For example:

Older people who have to give up driving because of problems including aging and ailments have similar needs for affordable, safe, and convenient transportation.

You can actually tell the reader the pattern.

Interview round 4 include more informal meetings, such as meeting the hiring manager for coffee.

Or, best of all, you can rewrite the sentence to clarify what you really are trying to get across with your list.

Training functions and audiences are countless and varied; they include compliance, leadership development, diversity, and sales.

One news angle is Personal data in the Digital Economy. We could write about how the rise of Big Data to personalize product recommendations steers/impacts customers. We could also address the resulting privacy concerns. Do you have ideas for any similar topics?

Notice how “including,” “like,” and “such as” communicate the same thing — that there are more elements not listed — without challenging the reader to detect the pattern that the writer hasn’t or can’t specify.

I.e.

“I.e.” abbreviates “id est,” and simply means, “that is.” Unlike “etc.,” it’s never pronounced in full.

It is totally useless, and signifies only that you have your nose in the air.

Here are some sentences.

The other most commonly cited business impacts [of mobility] included improvements in collaboration and communication, both internally (i.e., between employees, teams, departments, etc.) and externally (i.e., with partners).

Those investment initiatives are for vehicles that will be sold under the automotive industry’s existing business models, i.e., vehicle sales or leasing through the established dealer networks.

My problem with “i.e.” is that it usually means that you tried to say something and weren’t clear enough, so had to say it again. It’s not a coincidence that it often appears commingled with jargon and passive voice. And it’s an obvious sign that you would be better off rewriting the sentence.

The other most commonly cited business impacts [of mobility] included improvements in collaboration and communication. This includes both internal interactions among employees, teams, and departments, and external interactions with partners.

Those investment initiatives are for vehicles distributed in the traditional way, through a network of dealers that sell or lease them.

e.g.

“E.g.” abbreviates “exempli gratia” (nobody knows that) and just means “for example.”

So just say “for example” or “such as.”

E.g. is just a meaningless flourish.

Each of these types carries different investment requirements, necessitates a different regulatory approval process, and needs different infrastructures, e.g., communication, electrification, transportation, to be in place.

The combination of owned (e.g., websites), earned (e.g., social media sharing) and paid (e.g., advertising) media across platforms and devices makes attribution of results tied to digital investments complicated.

Rewriting these is easy. Do you find these rewrites clearer?

Each of these types carries different investment requirements, necessitates a different regulatory approval process, and depends on different communication, electrification, and transportation infrastructures.

Attribution of results tied to digital investments is difficult because it depends on a combination of cross-platform, cross device assets: owned media like websites, earned media like social platforms, and paid media like advertising,

We’re untangling multiple layers of series here. “E.g.” adds conceptual difficulty.

These Latinisms aren’t wrong. But you can do better.

These Latin abbreviations won’t set off a copy editor’s alarm bells: they’re not incorrect. They do, however, make it harder for readers whose native language is not Latin — that is, everyone — to parse what you’re saying. Like most academic-derived language tics, they interfere with the communication of meaning. And they’re easy to spot and fix.

So fix them. Your reader will thank you.

8 responses to “I hate “etc.,” “i.e.,” and “e.g.” You should, too. Here’s how to fix them.

  1. Not only that, but writers often write “etc.” when they meant et al. (“and others”).
    The word “etc.” tells your readers, “There are other members of this group, but reasonable people might disagree over what they are.”
    EXAMPLE: “He enjoys every manner of dessert: pie, cake, ice cream, etc.”

    By contrast, “et al.” tells your readers, “There’s an agreed-upon list of the other members of this group, but I won’t name them here”:
    EXAMPLE: “The president has insulted the leader of every NATO nation: Britain, Germany, et al.”
    Sometimes “et al.” carries the additional meaning, “You probably know darn well which group members I’ve omitted, so are so I won’t bore you or insult you by naming them here.”
    EXAMPLE: “The child proceeded to recite the entire alphabet: ‘A, B, C,’ et al.”

    All that said, Josh is right: Please, PLEASE, spare your readers both Latinisms.

  2. I remove all of these any time I see them. I especially hate them in a slide set when the owner argues using them to save space. Obviously, this is the same person who has way too many words on a slide as it is.

    I have not thought of them as being sophisticated, but more of an old school thing. I don’t see younger people using them as often.

    (When I respond to your posts, I review and edit them more than anywhere else that I post. You are the supreme editor to me!)

  3. You guys are taking away my go-to abbreviations 😉.

    But seriously folks Im going to take the other sodemof the debate. Certain audiences are quite familiar with these abbreviations. Usage in writing targeting them is a useful notation to quickly and succinctly communicate context and scope. They are certainly less appropriate for communications to the general public.

    I would probably demarcate appropriate usage by audience education/reading level–college degree and above is a reasonable thresholds as the Latinate abbreviations are commonplace in academic writing.

  4. I have to disagree with your conjecture (or is that word based too much on a Latin root?) that e.g., i.e., etc. (see what I did there? Aren’t I so very clever?), are used to make the writer sound more sophisticated. When I use them, I use them because they’re more efficient, not because I’m trying to look down my nose at anyone. I find it distasteful that you would make an automatic and prejudiced stereotype. Just because you believe it, doesn’t make it true.

    That said, I recognize that the Iron Imperative holds. If the readers to whom I’m writing aren’t people who might be expected to know the efficient words, their use will, as you said, just leave the reader puzzled. In those cases, for example, I would use “for example,” instead of “e.g.” Can I do better in my writing? Without a doubt. I’ve learned a lot from you, so I am not throwing this one of your nudges out with the bathwater. I just think that it’s an overgeneralization that gets in the way of writing efficiency, rather than always making it better.

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