In the story ‘The King and I’ the King of Siam is renowned for his frequent use of the expression ‘etcetera, etcetera, etcetera’.
Anna is the English teacher who is instructed, for example, to write a letter to Queen Victoria.
The King dictates a few words, half of which are ‘etcetera’!
Anna protests at how difficult it is to write a letter with so little information, but the King is both an autodidact and an autocrat, and dismisses her and her protests.
The problem is that Anna touches on the painful truth that he has very little to say.
When you look around you’ll probably start noticing just how frequently this word ‘etcetera’ or its more common abbreviation ‘etc’ is used.
ctually, it’s two words and is Latin: ‘et’ = and, ‘cetera’ = (the) rest.
You’ll probably notice it at the end of a list, such as a restaurant menu: ‘We can provide all your snacks, drinks, salads, etc.’
What does this false ‘word’ add to your knowledge? Nothing.
A friend of mine is a real-estate agent.
When I ask him something related to business he usually gives a short explanation full of this sort of empty expression: ‘… and I arrange the contracts, etcetera, and so on and so forth and suchlike.’
Do you learn much from this sort of empty language?
You’ll come across examples of this sort of empty expression everywhere, in books, articles, advertisements, and even in presentations!
When you use such language, you simply show that you’re being incomplete in your communication.
The reader can get all sorts of his own ideas, but unless he’s clairvoyant, the chances are minimal that they’ll fit perfectly with those of the writer.
When you listen to someone using these expressions, the situation is worse: the speaker goes on talking and you don’t even have the time to stop and think about what he could possibly have meant.
When you give a list or summary, and you want to conclude it, use the phrase ‘such as’, with or without ‘for example’. You then go on to use ‘the power of three’:
- “This afternoon we’re going to discuss various security measures such as registration systems, logging on and pin codes… which help to protect your data.”
Note here the addition of the reminder of the purpose or function of the different measures.
‘The power of three’ describes simply the process of mentioning three of the items in question.
- “Examples of words that you’d do well to avoid are brilliant, groovy and cool.”
You come across as clear-thinking, decisive and efficient when you use this style of precise language.
These are features which help to give the impression that you are positive and confident, which in turn boosts your credibility.
Every language has its own ‘empty’ expressions. For example, American youth is well known for the frequent use of expressions like ‘y’know’, ‘like’, ‘sort of’ and ‘I mean’.
When doing business and communicating in a businesslike fashion, it’s important that you get to the point as clearly and directly as possible.
This is of course unless you are a lawyer, politician or highly-placed government official where your specific profession protects you from my criticism; on the other hand, I might ask you some very confronting questions about your need to be so indirect and unclear.
Consider what you project, and how you come across, when you use clear language, where every word counts.
Consider what you project, and how you come across, when you use empty expressions.
How do you wish to be seen?
What is favourable for your work, your career and your company?
The language you use may only carry some 7-20% of your message, but you can consciously choose to implement it in supporting your desired image.
The choice (of language) is now up to you!