As you read this blog posting from the comfort of your home, school or office, I will most likely be mired in a terrifying state of limbo. For how long I am to remain in this state, I know not. It could be a mere matter of hours or it could be years before I am released from behind the bleak walls of the U.S. halls of justice.
Jury duty is such a drag. It is not that I am not thrilled to fulfill my civic duty, and I’m sure that firsthand experience of our judicial system will be riveting. The problem is that I am a big planner. Especially on Sunday night, I like to fill out my daily planner, designating every minute of every day to something productive. Now, that does not mean that I will accomplish everything on the list (going to the tailor has been there since the beginning of the year), but making these lists provides me with a sense of order, a sense of purpose, and, best of all, they allow me to write about running errands instead of actually running them. But, alas, it’s Sunday night, and I can’t write my list because my jury duty adventure could end tomorrow morning- or it could go on for weeks.
My attachment to a designated future must explain my growing distaste for the use of the word etc. in writing. We use etc. to indicate that the list goes on, but for how long does it go on? Till infinity?
And, it’s not just the uncertainty surrounding the word etc. that makes using it less than ideal. One problem is that some of us use it when we can’t think of enough examples to make our point.
Lawyer: So, Mrs. Peacock, you said you were in the parlor with the rope for two hours. What were you doing there for so long?
Mrs. Peacock: I was practicing many useful tasks: knot tying, etc.
See? It kind of weakens the argument. It would be more believable that she was busy for two hours if she mentioned a couple of other activities.
But, let’s give Mrs. Peacock the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she’s innocent. But, as a reader, aren’t you curious what else she was doing? She might think it’s obvious, but I have no idea how she could possibly have occupied herself with a rope for so long. It would be nice if instead of using etc. she added a couple more items.
So, instead of using etc. when listing, here’s my recommendation. Make a list of three items that are wonderful representations of your point and put them after either like, such as, or including.
Mrs. Peacock: I was practicing many useful tasks such as knot tying, lassoing, and jump roping.
Ah yes. Now I see. It must have been Miss Scarlet with the wrench.
So, to conclude, Your Honor, I argue that etc. should be banned from our writing. A writer should merely list three substantial examples to support their point. These examples should be preceded by words such as including, such as or like- words that, like etc., let the reader know that the list is not complete. This renders etc. irrelevant.
And the prosecution rests!