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In William Golding´s Paper Men, the main character keeps saying "Ha et cetera". What does he mean by this? Is it simply another way of saying "ha, ha, ha" (laughter)?

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    Please provide context. Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 8:22
  • I checked it out on Amazon.com, and there's no way of knowing without knowing a bit about the character. It appears to be an affected way of saying Ha, ha, ha, but who knows? Only someone who's read the book and has been introduced to the main character. I wouldn't venture a serious guess from the 10 or 15 hits I got searching the text.
    – user21497
    Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 9:11
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    Without having read the work, I think that Singer's answer sounds plausible. (I was going to write similar but he's said it already :-) ). It's the character's affected way of bringing attention to his low opinion of various things. I tend to add [tm] after some items with a very roughly similar aim. The phrase "Yeah, Right!" comes close. Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 10:25

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I believe this is a way in which the main character expresses sarcasm, maybe mixed with a little distrust or disdain (to a phrase/thought that is). I think an equivalent to this would be an ironic smile, or a sneer.

It is a way in which the main character responses to phrases, or thoughts, which he finds ridiculous or nonsense.

So I think the following two phrases will have roughly the same meaning:

  • "He told me he saw a flying pig yesterday... Flying pigs, can you imagine it? What a nonsense..."
  • "He told me he saw a flying pig yesterday... Flying pigs, can you imagine it? Ha, et cetera..."
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As it happens, Golding uses the expression "Ha et cetera" 15 times in the course of The Paper Men, usually in the mouth or thoughts of one particular character, Wilfred Barclay.

The blurb about this novel on the official William Golding website describes Barclay (and the novel) in the following terms:

Wilfred Barclay, a curmudgeonly, alcoholic writer of a bestseller is pursued by up-and-coming academic, and would-be-biographer of Barclay, Rick Tucker. Barclay, faced with a failing marriage and obsessed by middle-aged lust, tries to escape Tucker’s attentions by fleeing to Europe. Tucker follows him and the two become engaged in a game of cat and mouse, changing roles and the worlds around them. A satiric tale about the relationship between a biographer and his reluctant subject is a work of great comedy, with an unexpected climax.

After reviewing the multiple occurrences of the expression in question, I think it is pretty clear that Barclay uses "Ha et cetera" as an ironically abbreviated way of saying "Ha ha ha ha ...," with the number of ha's trailing off indefinitely. To my mind, truncating the normally jovial string "ha ha ha ha ..." with "et cetera" after a single "ha" emphasizes the insincerity and hollowness of the laughter—making it as brusque and pro forma as the "Yours, &c." closures to letters that became common in seventeenth-century English correspondence as valedictions grew increasingly ornate and long-winded. (My thanks to Stuart F for pointing out this similarity, in a comment beneath this answer.)

Bansi Lal Chakoo, William Golding Revisited: A Collection of Original Essays (1989) [combined snippets] offers this take on Barclay and his usage of "Ha et cetera":

The confusion of tones is exacerbated by Barclay's frequent use of slang terms—mostly commonplace British school-boy jargon—and his attempts at American academic short-hand with such terms as "dee fill" (148) which Barclay apparently thinks is American for Ph. D. The phrase "ha et cetera" appears so frequently to punctuate Barclay's thoughts that it becomes an irritating verbal tic.

It seems to me that Chakoo's interpretation doesn't venture very deep into the rancid humor of "ha et cetera" as a frequent expression in the novel.

Incidentally, Golding also uses "Ha ha" once in the novel and "Ha Ha. Ha Ha Ha Ha. Ha Ha. Ha Ha. Ha Ha. Ha Ha" once:

"Feeling all right, young Wilf? Sure? Ha ha."

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Hon, I know you majored in Eng. Lit., you were my favorite pupil, natch, oh I get it, it's like poor Wilf would say, you're tugging my leg. No, he'd say, you're approaching my lower limbs with a view to exerting some traction. Ha Ha. Ha Ha Ha Ha. Ha Ha. Ha Ha. Ha Ha. Ha Ha. ..."

Or as one might say instead, "Ha et cetera."

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    According to the OED, it was formerly common to use "etc"/"&c" in other contexts than lists: especially when writing a formulaic phrase, like the sign-off of a letter ("Yours etc", "I am etc"...), and to cut short an oath, etc. So using it to truncate a long, often-said thing would fit that usage.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 11 at 13:17

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