Monday, April 30, 2012

And Cetera

I want to start of with a couple quick lessons about some common terms we take for granted.

First, the abbreviation 'etc.' is short for "et cetera". It is a Latin phrase meaning, "and the rest". You will never misspell the abbreviation if you remember that it is two words and the first word is "et". Also, "et" means "and", so the translation is very literal and straightforward.

Second, the ampersand (a.k.a. the symbol &) is actually a very stylized way of writing "Et". The symbol means "and" because it is simply the Latin word for "and".

Third, the phrase "et cetera" is sometimes abbreviated with "&c." Since "&" is literally "et", it functions exactly the same. And this is where the main point comes in.

My friend uses "&c." as an abbreviation over "etc." as is his wont. I don't have a problem with it, but I have noticed that I don't read it the same. When I read things, I say them out loud. "Etc." is pronounced "et cetera". "&c." is pronounced "and cetera".

Non-letter symbols are kinda funky like that. We tend to learn one primary pronunciation for the symbol and ignore all others. Numbers are a great example of that.

There is a restaurant near me that I have driven by countless times and never visited. The sign on the building says "5 de Mayo". It was several years before I found out that it was not called "Five de Mayo".

It seemed so obvious after I was told. It's a Mexican restaurant. It's named after a pretty famous holiday we all know. But to me, the symbol "5" just isn't pronounced as "cinco".

When you use symbols or other abbreviations, you can take a certain risk. How it will be received depends on your reader's history with the symbol. That said, if you introduce the symbol along with how you intend it to be pronounced and understood, that will help a great deal.

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