General Writing and Grammar Help/Use of word

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QUESTION: Hi Ted. The word "caliber" is used most often in phrases like "teacher of the highest caliber", "a high caliber school", "a low calibre car", etc., where it is qualified by the words "high" or "low". Is it grammatically correct to also use it in the sentence, "Your response to me tells me much about the calibre of your character, not only as a person, but as a ........"? Also, when I use the abbreviation "etc" in a sentence, do I need to use a full-stop (period) after it (like I did above)? Thanks in advance.

ANSWER: Dear Julie:

The word "caliber" is used most often in phrases like "teacher of the highest caliber", "a high caliber school", "a low calibre car", etc., where it is qualified by the words "high" or "low". Is it grammatically correct to also use it in the sentence, "Your response to me tells me much about the calibre of your character, not only as a person, but as a ........"? Also, when I use the abbreviation "etc" in a sentence, do I need to use a full-stop (period) after it (like I did above)? Thanks in advance.

1.  The phrase "caliber of your character" is excellent.  You can use "caliber" in comparing many things, and your comparisons do not need to have a qualifier like "high."

2.  Because of the negative aspects of using "etc.," you should avoid the Latin abbreviation in formal writing.  If you must use it, punctuate it as you have done in your sentence.  You are correct.

The reasons for NOT using "etc." are many.  Here are just two of them:

1.  When you are writing a list of things or attributes, as you have done in your first sentence, you lose the parallel nature of your list by "tacking on" the "etc." at the end.

2.  Using "etc," suggests to your reader that you have taken a "short cut."  It is a "copout."  Think of "etc." as this kind of sentence ender:  "and anything else."

Note that I have used the American spelling of "caliber."  Your have used both the American AND the British spelling [calibre].  Choose one and use it only -- for consistency.

Ted Nesbitt

P. S.  Please complete the evaluation form that comes with my answer.  Thank you, Julie.



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi again, Ted. Instead of using "etc.", what should I use, then, if I don't want to list all the other things because I know that the reader knows what other things I'm talking about. For example, "Remember to take to the exam your pens, pencil, ruler, calculator, etc." If I list only a few things without using "etc.", won't that be construed as that they are the only things that can be in the list? Is "Remember to take to the exam your pens, pencil, ruler, calculator and any other stationery you may need." a better way to phrase it?

Answer
Dear Julie:

QUESTION: Hi again, Ted. Instead of using "etc.", what should I use, then, if I don't want to list all the other things because I know that the reader knows what other things I'm talking about. For example, "Remember to take to the exam your pens, pencil, ruler, calculator, etc." If I list only a few things without using "etc.", won't that be construed as that they are the only things that can be in the list? Is "Remember to take to the exam your pens, pencil, ruler, calculator and any other stationery you may need." a better way to phrase it?

*** I understand your problem.  There are many grammarians that find using "etc." acceptable, IF and ONLY IF, your list contains items that are similar in nature.  Your examples of pens, pencils, rulers, etc. are good, because they are related to taking a math test.  

HOWEVER, your suggested revision is outstanding!  I would quibble only with the "stationery."  Why not refer to these things as "items" or "necessary things."  "Stationery" is fine when you are referring only to "paper things."  However, "stationery" does not belong with rulers and calculators.

I suggest that you replace "etc." with a phrase such as "and other things."

I am not alone in my thinking.  In the OLD days, teachers would come down hard on students who wrote "etc." instead of finishing the sentence with an appropriate phrase.

Look for "etc." on this "problem list" from an outstanding English department:

http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/plague.htm

*** That's right!  "Etc." is referred to as a "plague" word.

Ted

Don't forget the evaluation.

By the way, I admire your perseverance.  The OLD way of saying that is "your stick-to-it-ive-ness."

Ted

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

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B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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