The other day I was approached with a very peculiar query. The person wanted to know the difference between "et al." and "etc." The person also added, and I quote, "if there is any!" The term "et al." is an abbreviation for the Latin term et alia that means and others, the others being people and not things. It is affixed after the name of a person, e.g., a researcher to indicate that additional people were involved in the work or were acting in the same manner. For example, in the sentence "The work was completed by Shimazu et al.," the term et al. indicates that Shimazu and others (his co-workers or colleagues) were involved in completing the work. On the other hand, the word etc, the abbreviation of et cetera, means and the rest or and so forth. It is used at the end of a list to indicate that the list is not complete and only some of the involved items have been mentioned. Further, when a list is introduced using "such as" or "e.g.," the use of the term "etc" is redundant.
Incorrect: It was reported that some metal ions such as zinc, copper, and vanadium, et al. were useful in the therapy for diabetes mellitus.
Correct: It was reported that some metal ions such as zinc, copper, and vanadium were useful in the therapy for diabetes mellitus.
Also Correct: Zinc, copper, vanadium, etc. were the metal ions reported to be useful in the therapy for diabetes mellitus.
In the above example, since the reference is being made to elements and not people the use of the term et al. is incorrect.
[This is part of a series of posts, titled Useful Links, which shall feature "essential" online tools, discussions, blogs, essays and references that we find over the Internet.]
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