The Grammarphobia Blog

What’s with the “et” in “et cetera”?

Q: Would you care to comment on the more and more frequent mispronunciation of “et cetera” as “ek cetera”? Is this a lost cause? Or is there time to draw the line?

A: I don’t think it’s a lost cause, but the mispronunciation you mention, often heard as “exetra” or “ek cetera,” has become so commonplace that it’s no longer “eksentric.” It’s still not “akceptable,” though.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) lists only two pronunciations: et-SET-uh-ruh and et-SET-ruh. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) adds “ek” and “ik” versions, but says they’re less common and considered unacceptable by some.

Why do so many people pronounce “et cetera” as though the first syllable were “ek” or “ex”? I can’t answer that, but Bryan A. Garner, in Garner’s Modern American Usage, lists it as one of the 50 most commonly mispronounced words in American English. It’s right up there with “ast” and “aksd” (for “asked”).

Buy Pat’s books at a local store or Amazon.com.