Et cetera, Re, and Sic

By Maeve Maddox

When the Latin-loving educated classes finally started taking English seriously enough to write their works in, they brought a lot of Latin terms with them. Some of the terms remain in the language, among them et cetera, re, and sic.

Et cetera
Commonly abbreviated etc., the Latin phrase et cetera is used at the end of a list to indicate things in addition to those already enumerated: When you go shopping, be sure to buy such staples as flour, rice, sugar, etc. In older texts, you may see it abbreviated as &c. The symbol &, called the ampersand, originated as a ligature for the Latin word et (and).

Note: In writing and printing, a ligature is two or more letters joined together to form one character, like the letters e+t.

Etc. is frequently misspelled as “ect” and mispronounced as [ek setera]. These errors can be avoided by noting that the first part of the phrase is et, not “ek.” The exact translation of et cetera is “and the others: et=and, cetera=the others.

Re:
Another Latin word commonly used in English is re. The Latin phrase “in re” means “in the matter of,” or “concerning.” Traditionally, the word has been written at the top of a letter, either in all caps or with an uppercase R and a lowercase e, followed by a colon:

RE:
Re:

Until recently, Re: was understood as a way to announce the subject of the message to follow:

Re: Your letter of May12, 2014

As is the case with many formerly familiar Latin expressions in English, the meaning of Re: has become blurred, and its use is shifting. Many web users believe that it is an abbreviation for regarding. Others use it in email subjects to mean “Reply.”

Sic
The Latin word sic in square brackets after a word in quoted material means that something in the quotation is in error. The writer quoting the material inserts [sic] to indicate that the misspelled word or inaccurate fact occurs in the original:

The most usual use of [sic] familiar to the general reader is its use to signal a misspelled or word: According to the document, “Every store on Main Street has the responsibility to provide it’s [sic] own parking.”

{Sic] is also used to signal an error of fact. For example:

Simpson says, “In Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, that the young Arthur draws Excalibur [sic] from the stone and is recognized as the rightful king.”

The error being flagged by [sic] does not point to a misspelling; it has to do with the fact that in Malory, the sword drawn from the stone is not Excalibur. Arthur obtains Excalibur much later, from the Lady of the Lake.

Related posts on DailyWritingTips:
Regarding Re:
What Does Sic Mean?

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5 Responses to “Et cetera, Re, and Sic”

  • thebluebird11

    Eating leftover Chinese food and reading about Latin…what could be better?! All I need now is a nap LOL

  • Jason Dybas

    Hello. I just wanted to say that I love your posts on DWT. I find them extremely helpful. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

    Jason

  • Jean

    In re the use of etc. “… at the end of a list to indicate things in addition to those already enumerated”: this brings up my most-often-encountered — and teeth-gnashingly frustrating — misuse of the term: i.e., when it’s coupled with either of those fellow venerable Latin terms, e.g. and i.e.

    You can always tell when someone has only a loose grasp of the latter terms, whenever they combine either with “et cetera.” Used with exempli gratia, it’s redundant; and used with id est, it violates the logical rules requiring one to either COMPLETE the list, when it — i.e. — is in fact being used to enumerate ALL the members of a very short one. . . or to switch to e.g. in the first place, if you’re NOT going to complete it! Arrrgh! Growff, growff!

  • Mike Kelly

    Are the Latin terms etcetera and et al synonymous?

  • Jean

    Mike:

    No, they’re not synonymous, though they’re erroneously equated probably more than any pair of Latin terms other than i.e. and e.g. Et al. — abreviation for “et alii” (masculine) or “et aliae” (feminine) — means “and the others,” and commonly refers to the rest of a list of PEOPLE, not things.

    There is a third phrase, “et alia” — the Latin plural neuter version, also abbreviated as “et al.” — which could be viewed as an equivalent of “etc.” if you’re going to use the term ONLY for inanimate objects. However, in that case, “etc.” is the commoner and more consistent usage.

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