Any college/university student who has written a half-decent higher education paper has undoubtedly used the term ‘et al’ at the end of a reference to an article that was written by multiple authors. The problem is, no one knows who ‘al’ is.
You see, many words frequently used in academia that are abbreviated are borrowed from other languages such as Latin (as a side note, why is abbreviation such a long word?!). For example, the term ‘i.e.’ is abbreviated from Latin, and it really stands for ‘id est’ which means ‘that is’.
In the case of ‘et al’, it appears to be adapted from French. The French word ‘et’ means ‘and’ and the word ‘al’, is well, ‘Al’! So the question becomes, who IS Al? Is al short for Albert? Is he from France? Albert seems to be a common enough French name.
The word ‘al’ must mean ‘Al’ since the alternatives just don’t make sense! Think about it… there couldn’t possibly be THAT many ‘Al’s in library search databases!
It is difficult to say what Al looks like today. He must be a very old man. I mean, after all, his name has been used for such a long time that he must have aged quite a bit since his name was first being used ad nauseam.
Make no mistake, Al may be anonymous but he IS a genius. Who else could have masterminded a plan to co-author so many research papers as shown through his being credited on thousands of articles.
One theory is that Al isn’t even a guy! Some say that ‘al’ is short for Alison. This perspective is doubtful though because the term ‘et al’ has been used for such a long time that it dates back to a period when males dominated the academic scene. Although, even if political correctness was not a big thing over 30 years ago, the use of ‘al’ as being sort of ambiguous is impressive. Then again, people use ‘Al’ to refer to ‘Alberts’ more than ‘Alisons’. Confused? If you’re worthy of reading this article then you shouldn’t be!
Perhaps Al is some kind of eternally undying researcher who we innately feel we must pay homage to. The famous psychologist Carl Jung came up with the idea of the collective unconscious. He believed that the collective unconscious contains the entire spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution and that it is innately developed in every individual’s brain. Maybe he was right! Perhaps the idea of Al as the eternal researcher somehow burst through and came into conscious for someone in the field of writing guidelines and everyone on the board naturally agreed that Al had to be credited from then on.
What Al might look like today.
It seems an impossible task to try to figure out how he gets around so much. Maybe he has twin brothers. Triplets? Clones? Sons? There are unlimited possibilities!
Too bad he wasn’t a musician. If that were the case, the VH1 Behind The Music people would surely have tracked him down and/or gathered his story from others. We may never know who Al is or how he was placed in a position to become so well-known, but we can certainly continue to honor this elusive individual.