By Yasha Renner, Attorney Editor
It was a Friday, almost lunch time, and I was nearing the end of a chapter I was editing for the 2016 revision of Damages. I couldn’t figure out why the chapter’s author decided to include only four of the nine contractor designations cited in ORS 701.081 when they all seemed applicable. Does the author think less of locksmiths or home inspectors? I wondered.
Here’s the sentence:
As part of the registration process, a $10,000, $15,000, or $20,000 surety bond must be posted, depending on the contractor’s designation as a residential general contractor, a residential developer, a residential specialty contractor, or a residential limited contractor. ORS 701.068; ORS 701.081.
At a loss, a sly thought entered my mind; I could finish the sentence with an etc. That way I wouldn’t have to bother the author with a stupid question, nor would I have to endanger the assertion by adding the remaining actors, who (I am sure) were excluded for noble reasons. But to act on this temptation, I soon learned, would have been quite wrong. And just as I resolved to do so my conscience spoke, accusing me of editorial sloth—a capital vice.
So I did what I often do when faced with a question of editorial ethics: I turn to Bryan Garner, our department’s de facto editor in chief, who, with meekness and charity, invoked the following French proverb: “God save us from a lawyer’s et cetera.” Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 331 (3rd ed. 2011). And thus, with the help of a higher power (i.e., a style guide), I was instantly freed from the enemy’s grip. “Still,” he counseled, “it would be foolish to lay down an absolute proscription against using etc., for often one simply cannot practicably list all that should be listed in a given context.” Id.
Alright, then, I thought to myself. I was relieved to know that etc. is not malum in se. But does the context here sanction its use? Certainly not, since I could list all of the designations. “Hideous!” my right-brain suddenly cried out, clearly bothered by the thought; and with that I yielded to its complaint. This sentence had to be pretty.
What’s an attorney editor to do?
Let’s just say I banished the offending half-truth. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we lawyers don’t miss the moral here, which has nothing to do with style or grammar and everything to do with cultivating good habits, namely diligence and veracity, i.e., completeness. Because an incomplete thought, if aired, could become a scandal to others who, for instance, might be tempted to complete it for you, etc., etc.