Is it possible that et cetera gained its popularity thanks to the 1956 movie The King and I?

Since I wasn't around before 1956, I'm not sure how common "et cetera" was in day to day speech. Or was it still as common in everyday speech back then as it is today?

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    You are probably suffering from the recency illusion. But I don't have any references for "day-to-day speech" to back this up. Feb 24 '11 at 22:32

I searched for et cetera and etcetera in the Corpus of Historical American, and I found the following data:

first screenshot

The chart shows that et cetera was already used before 1956, and its usage has been constant in the period 1950-1960. The usage frequency of the word, in the years between 1950 and 1979, has been 1.47, 1.54, and 3.44 per million, which is lower than the frequency of words like vice versa, and etc., but higher than the frequency of words like et al. and et seq.

  • For what it's worth, I think the number of samples (36, 37, 82…) is too small to inspire much confidence: I don't think there was a spike in the 70s, for instance. But I agree that the usage has probably stayed more or less constant in recent decades (may have decreased a bit), and the movie almost certainly played no significant role whatsoever. Feb 25 '11 at 12:20

While certainly not a good measure of 'everyday speech', the Google Ngrams chart from 1700 to 2000 actually indicates that the highest peaks in literature were in the early 1930s and mid 1940s. You can see a more zoomed in view here.

This would indicate a higher correlation with the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam than the movie version. It might also indicate that the novel instead drew on other works rather than being the prime mover.

  • I don't think either the novel or the movie had any effect, frankly. Feb 25 '11 at 12:21
  • Interestingly, the ngram chart for its abbreviation, "etc", seems to show it entered common literature in the mid 19th century: ngrams.googlelabs.com/…. I am skeptical of any observation based on these graphs though.
    – tenfour
    Mar 14 '11 at 15:18
  • @tenfour: could you elaborate? I'm curious, as I heard many people saying that they are "skeptical" about those graphs, but never why... I mean, a count of occurrences in books is a count of occurrences in books! Surely, you can misinterpret it as you wish, but that is true for any graph.
    – nico
    Mar 14 '11 at 15:24
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    Mostly I'm skeptical that one could see a rising graph and infer anything about linguistics. A graph like this represents dry, meaningless, facts, in the strictest sense. This graph represents a statistic via a specific algorithm, on a specific sample set, and delivered in the GUI provided. There's a lot of room to "color" the numbers based on some unrelated context (like prominence of text books in the sample set). It doesn't reliably say anything about usage. Without a theory to attach it to and support, the graph by itself is pretty shaky as an answer to any question.
    – tenfour
    Mar 14 '11 at 15:50
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    I personally disagree. I do not see how you can talk about "meaningless facts": those are real counts from a real sample of books so they do have a meaning. They represent how common was in a certain time for a book author to use a certain word. This is directly connected to usage of the word. It may not be a strict 1:1 connection, but saying that there is no connection at all is naïve. Search for areoplane or computer, or thou, you'll see that the graphs represents a very good approximation of their usage. Anyway, Google provides the full DB if you want to run a statistical analysis!
    – nico
    Mar 14 '11 at 16:12

This has been around for a long, long time. According to Etymonline,

et cetera also etcetera, early 15c., from L. et cetera, lit. "and the others," from et "and" + neut. of ceteri "the others." The common abbreviation was &c. before 20c., but etc. now prevails.

Normally people will say "and so on" or "and so forth" when speaking, but plenty of times you will hear "et cetera."

In the 19th and early 20th centuriesy the one-word version, etcetera (or etceteras) was used as a synonym for sundries or odds and ends, and Webster's 3rd New Int'l. Dictionary cites Elizabeth Bowen (who consorted with the Bloomsbury group) using it in a sentence. So it must have had some currency before The King and I.

  • Note that, since cetera is neuter, it means "the other [things]", not "the others" as in people. Feb 25 '11 at 0:12
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    @Cerberus: That's true of Latin, but it is probably worth mentioning that English is free to take et cetera (or any other borrowed word) and use it however it wants; for example, fraternal (coming from Latin frater meaning "brother") is used in terms like "fraternal twins" even when the twins are both female.
    – Kosmonaut
    Mar 14 '11 at 2:57
  • @Kos: My comment was intended for the quote from Etymonline: ... L. *et cetera*, lit. "and the others," .... // That said, of course a language can do what it wants with loan words; but it will usually apply some restrictions of its own accord, often inspired by the language of origin. // Would you really say or write et cetera for people? I rarely use the phrase in speech; in writing, I'd write etc.: never et cetera for people. Mar 14 '11 at 11:13
  • @Cerberus: The main reason I made that point is that the fact about Latin doesn't predict whether the same would hold true in English. While it is possible, I would say it is at least equally likely that restrictions like this are not respected. Also, I'm not sure I understand the distinction you are making between etc. and et cetera; I never use the latter in writing at all, and the former I can and do use (where appropriate) for a list of people. Are you saying you would use etc. for people, but not et cetera?
    – Kosmonaut
    Mar 14 '11 at 15:06
  • @Kos: Exactly: I believe etc./&c. is internationally used for et cetera, et ceteri, and et ceterae; at least that is what tradition would have us believe. Since this threefold abbreviation dates back to medieval Latin manuscripts (and probably also manuscripts from Antiquity), English writers no doubt first used it in Latin texts rather than English texts, later using the international abbreviation in English texts as well. // I agree in general that loan words always have different sets of restrictions from their originals; but there usually is some similarity. Mar 14 '11 at 16:15

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