One of my favorite punctuation marks (I have several) is the ellipsis, also known as the three dots. Here’s what it looks like: …
I was curious to see how often I use it in my blog posts, so I did a search of my site. It looks like I use it a lot more than I thought. I never got beyond discovering that I used an ellipsis in the title of 44 of my posts (well 45 if you count this post), and in two of those titles, And the World’s Largest Tire Manufacturer Is… Drumroll Please… and Shhhh… Don’t Tell Anyone, But This Is How I Spent New Year’s Morning…, I used an ellipsis twice. In just the title.
Given that search result, I thought I might overwhelm my hosting site if I wanted to see how often I use an ellipsis in the posts themselves.
(sidebar: another one of my favorite punctuation marks is the exclamation point. It looks like I really go to town with this one. I’ve used it in the title of 77 of my posts, and in one title I used 17 consecutive exclamation points – I Guess I Used Up My Lifetime Allotment a Long Time Ago!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And in one amazing title, I used both an ellipsis and an exclamation point! Rejected! But…)
Since I’ve already written about exclamation points I thought it was time to write about the ellipsis.
Here’s a description from Grammarly (where I also got the image at the top):
The term ellipsis comes from the Greek word meaning “omission,” and that’s just what an ellipsis does—it shows that something has been left out. When you’re quoting someone, you can use an ellipsis to show that you’ve omitted some of their words…. You can also use an ellipsis to show a pause in speech or that a sentence trails off. This technique doesn’t belong in formal or academic writing, though. You should only use the ellipsis this way in fiction and informal writing.
Another article, The five most annoying ways to use an ellipsis, states, “Like many of the best things in life, ellipses are fine when used well and in moderation, but troublesome when used recklessly.”
The University of Sussex, a proper British University, where I am sure grammar is very important, has this to say:
The ellipsis (…), also called omission marks or the suspension, has just two uses. First, the ellipsis is used to show that some material has been omitted from the middle of a direct quotation. Second, the ellipsis is used to show that a sentence has been left unfinished. This second usage is more typical of journalistic prose than of formal writing; excepting only when you are citing a direct quotation which seems to require it, you should generally avoid the ellipsis in formal writing. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone would confuse this blog with formal writing, so I think I get a pass.
The web site The Week had two articles about the ellipsis. In one of those, it refers to it as the The Coy, Awkward Ellipsis because “it asks the receiver of the message to fill in the text, and in that way is very coy and potentially flirty. “Pizza…” Is that an invitation? An opinion? It sits there waiting for a response. This brings awkwardness into the equation, and the ellipsis (or even the written words “dot dot dot”) is another way to say “well this is awkward.” The conversation is not over, but someone has to make a move. And the clock ticks uncomfortably on, dot…by dot…by dot…”
The second article from The Week, About Trump and ellipses…, written by Jeva Lange, offers quite an extensive look at the history of the ellipsis, and President Trump’s use of it. She notes that Trump’s longest ellipsis is a punctuation chasm stretching 23 dots in length at the end of a tweet:
“@drvanderbloomen: @realDonaldTrump –You may be our last hope…………………..”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 19, 2015
Lange notes that the ellipsis has an ominous literary history, dating to a time when it was not just a dramatic pause but an indication of darkness, obscurity, vacantness — and even madness. “Ellipsis marks trade on the value of innuendo, scandal, and sensation,” punctuation historian Anne Toner writes in her study Ellipsis in English Literature: Signs of Omission.
“[The ellipsis] means that the writer … is trying to suggest something rather … well, elusive, if you get what we mean,” Don Marquis wrote in the New York Evening Sun, as quoted by George Summey in his 1919 book Modern Punctuation: Its Utilities and Conventions. “And the reason he suggests it instead of expressing it … is … very often … because it is almost an idea … instead of a real idea.”
Italian novelist Umberto Eco took fewer words to dismiss the ellipsis, calling it a “ghastliness.” German philosopher Theodor Adorno ungenerously linked the dot-dot-dot to “an infinitude of thoughts and associations, something the hack journalist does not have; he must depend on typography to simulate them.” (that describes me, not having too many thoughts and associations).
The first true use of the ellipsis as we know it comes from the English translation of the 1588 play Andria by Terence. Shortly after Terence, Shakespeare used the ellipsis to create pauses in two of his tragedies: Othello and King Lear.
Historically, the ellipsis can have another implication, too — the deterioration of the mind.
Lange concludes that “Through simple omission, or dramatic pause, he (Trump) can stoke sensationalism and cover up the shallowness of his own thoughts.”
And it’s that last statement which is of biggest concern, and may give me a reason to stop using the ellipsis.
I’ve never thought of myself and Trump having anything in common, but apparently we both use the ellipsis as a way to cover up the shallowness of our own thoughts.
I think I can probably do that without using three dots…