My Favorite Word by Vicky Oliver

I love the word etcetera.

The Latinate sound rolls on the tongue like vanilla ice-cream. I say rolls on since I crave more of it. I want to slurp it down, teaspoon by teaspoon, feasting on the word. It sounds so delicious that I want to repeat it two or even three times—like yada, yada, yada, which also carries the sense of etcetera but without the elegance.

Like vanilla ice-cream, the word etcetera does not need to be dressed up with sprinkles, crunchy walnuts, or a maraschino cherry on top. The word says it all. It can fill in for one lowly sentence or ten years of therapy. (“He cheated on her, etcetera.” Only someone with prurient tastes need ever know more.)

Etcetera beckons to the audience at hand, embracing the reader and asking her or him to fill in. Just imagine the rest of what she said, dear reader. Join me. You understand how it went down, how the team scored, how the play ended, etcetera, etcetera.

With economy and grace, the word cuts to the chase (without using a hackneyed phrase, such as “cuts to the chase”). At a cocktail party, the word etcetera asks listeners to paint in the rest of the anecdote using their own vivid imaginations rather than taxing the beleaguered storyteller’s. In this sense, the word makes for a considerate and convivial partygoer. Drop the word, and you are free to savor that second glass of wine or reward yourself with a whiskey sour or Campari and soda. You are a brilliant conversationalist, and we will invite you back often, your hosts assert. Story over, you are now free to circulate.

One thing I do not appreciate about the word, etcetera, however, is how it can be shortened to etc. That, to me, is a grotesque bastardization of the word. It is diet gelato with that horrible metallic taste. Etc. truncates. Stops the flow. Cuts short. The sentence or thought is felled in the prime of its too-short career. In contrast to what William Shakespeare asserted, “brevity is not the soul of wit.” When etcetera is shortened to etc., brevity is the soul of soullessness.

Instead of asking the reader to fill in, etc. cuts off all thought, all inclusion.

So if you want to stay on this reader’s good side, use the word etcetera often and be sure to spell it out, etcetera, etcetera.

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