Inter alia et al.

Inter alia

This was a recent mailing-list discussion.

We are advised nowadays to avoid Latin expressions, even in legal English. When avoiding inter alia, we are widely advised to use among others, but this doesn’t always work.

inter alia: among other things
inter alios: among others/among other persons

Actually, among others sometimes works in a wider sense, but not always.

Thus, here it works, as ‘others’ is taken to refer back to ‘factors’:

The survey, carried out by The Economist, rates locations based on factors such as stability, healthcare and infrastructure, among others.


here it doesn’t work:

Museum collections have been enriched with video records. Registered accounts are devoted to, among others, functioning of ghettos in Lublin, grounds of the Majdanek camp after its liquidation, and post-war fates of a former prisoner of KL Lublin.

These are often non-native English texts, but they may have taken their advice from native sources.

There is a problem that Bryan Garner, who edits Black’s Dictionary, does say in his book on style that
‘among others’ refers to both people and things. This is not the view of Mellinkoff or of The Cambridge Guide to English Usage or of Thornton on Legislative Drafting – all agree with me that ‘among/amongst others’ means people.

One of my colleagues quoted a slightly edited example from a search engine as a sentence where ‘among other things’ would not work, he felt:

For example, the Transparency and the Markets in Financial Instruments Directives, among others, have come into effect since 2003.

Among/amongst and while/whilst

We also had an argument about this. Some don’t like the use of amongst and whilst, which are more common in BE than in AmE, but even in BE less common than the forms without -st on the end.

I don’t think it’s relevant to us BE speakers that it sounds pretentious for Americans to use those forms, although we may think about our target audience if they are Americans. My target audience is often a variety of native and non-native speakers of English in Europe, some of whom are going to be from the USA, so I tend to use double inverted commas and I suppose I should avoid ‘amongst’. I certainly avoid the verb ‘to undertake’ in a contract because I believe, rightly or wrongly, that Americans find it odd. A colleague in Vienna (no, not you, Adrian) once got very hot under the collar at the very idea I might pander to Americans, but there it is.

But as for the use of ‘whilst’ in BE – I hate it! I wonder why. I don’t hate ‘amongst’. I think I am being snobbish here. I associate it with people who aren’t very well educated. But I haven’t found that confirmed.


Some publications on both sides of the Atlantic disapprove of whilst in their style guides (along with “amidst” and “amongst”); for example:

Times Online Style Guide: “while (not whilst)”
Guardian Style Guide: “while not whilst”
Hansard: the Canadian Parliament record: “while not whilst”

More Latin

I have mentioned before that lawyers’ Latin differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. You can have a nice library of glossaries of legal Latin for England and Wales, Scotland, the USA, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

There’s been a move to reduce Latin and for legal texts to be comprehensible to the public for some years now, famously in Woolf’s Civil Procedure Rules in 1998. But not every intended simplification really works.

A 2004 article in the Law Gazette, Language Barrier, is useful. Quoting David Ibbetson, professor of civil law at Cambridge University:

‘Sometimes Latin phrases were used as a sort of shorthand for technical terms which could not be translated into simple English,’ he says.

‘Actus reus, for example, doesn’t simply mean guilty act, and to try to translate it out of the Latin into comprehensible English would risk giving the impression that it had an ordinary language certainty.

‘So we do have to be careful not to try to achieve a spurious comprehensibility at the expense of accuracy.

That said, there can be no excuse for retaining Latin terminology simply because putting it in English would demystify the whole law – like insisting on singing operas in German because the words sound so silly in translation.’

Mutatis mutandis

Finally, one of the expressions found useful is Latin, is mutatis mutandis. Note that this has been replaced in English legislation by ‘with the necessary modifications. Here’s a Google search:

“with the necessary modifications”

This gets 30,000 ghits, whereas ‘mutatis mutandis’ gets 220.

3 thoughts on “Inter alia et al.

  1. I think the “among others” conundrum isn’t so much an issue about it being about people or things per se. To me, it seems to relate to whatever category of entities are being mentioned before or after.
    However, it can never refer to both categories at the same time, or to any category other than the one mentioned alongside it.
    So I think Garner is actually right in the sense that “among others” can refer to people _or_ things, though never to both at the same time.
    Here it seems less flexible than the German “unter anderem” or indeed the Latin “et al.”, which may be why the latter has survived for so long in actual use.


    “His conclusions were later confirmed by Peters and Thompson, among others.”
    – reference to people, OK.

    “She had an extensive record of traffic violations, among others red light running and drunk driving.”
    – reference to abtract concepts, OK.

    “During our visit to London, among others, we got to see the Victoria and Albert Museums and found time to pay a visit to my great aunt I had not seen in years.”
    – not OK, as it mixes things and people so the reference is unclear

  2. Yes, that’s right. I think the problem is that many non-native speakers believe the shorthand version, ‘”among others” is OK for people and things’, whereas it’s more complicated. As you say, ‘unter anderem’ is not a problem. It may also be that German speakers are thinking of ‘unter anderem’ when they write ‘among others’.

  3. We need to be careful *de novo* about conflating BrE with Scots legal where ‘among others’ would work in extended contexts.

    Also if Civil Law Prof. David I’s proposition is right that actus reus is not on all fours with guilty act vs. mens rea as a guilty mind, then the English & Wales criminal law clock will have to be turned back 400 years plus most criminal law exam-pass papers remarked.

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