Why are people using ellipses instead of a period?
December 13, 2006 2:32 PM   Subscribe

What has happened to people being able to properly use a single period to end a sentence?

More and more I'm seeing this thing in email and friends' blog entries where the writer ends a sentence with three to four periods instead of the proper period and a space (or two). These are not sentences that should or would be normally ended with an ellipsis. Now that I am reading the Mark Foley email post on the Blue I am seeing that it is not limited to just a few people.

I'll pull an example out of the Foley email: "I just emailed _....hes such a nice guy...acts much older than his age...and hes in really great shape...I am" and so forth.

Is there something that started this or a reason for it that I am not aware of? This doesn't seem like it is a lazy online writing thing since we're talking 3-4 keystrokes as compared to 2 or 3.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey to Writing & Language (73 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's conversational...indicates thought...or just a pause...
posted by lampoil at 2:37 PM on December 13, 2006


I've read that it's an indicator of informal or conversational tone. It drives me nuts every bit as much as people using multiple exclamation points. What shocks me to no end is the number of clients I have that use both in a single email.

Send 'em all back to elementary school, that's what I say.
posted by lekvar at 2:39 PM on December 13, 2006


Sometimes it can denote sarcasm. Like, as if people EVER knew how to use punctuation properly...

(Where the "..." means "spend that extra time I gave you to let the STINGING BARB sink in)

Other people just like to use the ellipses to string connected sentences together....easier than using a semilcolon...you can use as many as you want....no need to use proper grammar if you're clearly employing Everyday Speech.

Other times, it's a dreamy way to pepper your language...Just imagine...that every time you read the ellipsis, it's people making thoughtful, dramatic pauses...

Some people prefer Trailing Off Into Mystery over the Emphatic Cessation of the single period...it lets their words last longer in time, like an echo...
posted by Milkman Dan at 2:41 PM on December 13, 2006 [3 favorites]


People develop some really weird typographical affectations when typing on the internet. In one forum I used to participate in, one of the members deliberately left out the space after (and before, where applicable) all punctuation. Her posts were often quite long (no paragraph separation, either), and my eyes would literally scrunch up when I tried to read them. I gave up trying after a while, which is too bad, because I think she often had some valuable things to say.
posted by trip and a half at 2:44 PM on December 13, 2006


I use them a lot online as a pause longer than a full stop (period) or at the end of a sentence to leave something hanging...

I don't use this style writing work emails though and, to me, the Foley email example is just bad writing.

A lot of email & online communication is about writing as talking rather than writing as writing hence particular developments in style, eg emoticons.
posted by i_cola at 2:46 PM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


It can sometimes indicate the writer's confusion with transitions. Say someone communicating via SMS, irc or email wished to close one sentence and begin another. Their train of thought, however, is wholly immersed in what they're trying to express. In their haste, they may break their statement into trailing fragments, as opposed to properly formatting their message.
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:48 PM on December 13, 2006


MODERN AGE happened, baby...

people are too busy nowadays for anything that doesn't suit their fancy. proper grammer just throws a cog in their wheels, or whatever that archaic expression may be.

Personally, this usage seems to derive from the laziness of the average person, and the amount of effort required to formulate proper sentences.
posted by shownomercy at 2:55 PM on December 13, 2006 [2 favorites]


I used to have a boss who did it... Before he was my boss he used to be a radio personality... I always assumed it was some kind of radio script thing... Or maybe not... It did drive me nuts though....
posted by Opposite George at 2:56 PM on December 13, 2006


Oh man... I am occasionally guilty of this, as you can see by the way I just did it without thinking at the beginning of this sentence. But I was immediately reminded of a time when I worked at a big corporation and would regularly receive what me and the other interns called "corporate spam": announcements and visions and reports from the top brass, thousands of miles away.

There was one executive VP or something whose e-mails would seriously look like this:
first quarter earnings are positive....... you're all doing a great job but of course we could be doing a lot more............... the new product launch went very well and we should be focusing our efforts on this segment........................... because after all this is our core market....... and we want to be number 1!

I shuddered when I read this. And when I thought about how many millions this guy made it made me want to cry.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:08 PM on December 13, 2006


Thomas Pynchon regularly ends sentences with ellipses in Gravity's Rainbow (1973), though if I remember correctly that's not a characteristic of his other books (or maybe GR is the only one where the device really stands out for me). So it's not a new thing, and apparently you can get away with it if you're Thomas Pynchon....
posted by Prospero at 3:13 PM on December 13, 2006


Larry King's fault. This was the style he used in his USA Today column.
posted by smackfu at 3:14 PM on December 13, 2006


Is

"I just emailed _. Hes such a nice guy. Acts much older than his age. And hes in really great shape."

any better? Nope. I would take dots like that to mean a conversational tone, a stream of conciousness outpouring that in a physical one on one would interspersped with me saying "Really?" "Wow" "Go on.." etc. They aren't replacing periods.
posted by fire&wings at 3:15 PM on December 13, 2006


I hate it.

I used to do it when I was twelve, because I was under two misconceptions:

1) that the dots added profundity to the sentence. i thought "The universe is expanding..." was more profound than "The universe is expanding." because the "..." meant the same thing as a wise old guru saying "think about it" after delivering some great, mysterious truth. The "..." was the pause during which you -- the lucky reader -- were supposed to muse upon my last sentence. I was worried that without the dots, you might hurry on to my next sentence without giving my previous one the concern it deserved.

Eventually, I figured out (or someone told me) that if it ain't profound to begin with, no sort of punctuation will make it profound. I wish someone would explain the same thing to that guy who does voice-overs for movie trailers. Saying, "Bruce Willis" in a tough, "kick-ass" voice doesn't make Bruce Willis tough.

2) As a teenager, I flipped between thinking I was super-profound and thinking I was an idiot. And I worried that my idiocy would shine through my writing in some obvious way. So I thought -- or hoped -- that by scattering ellipsis liberally throughout my prose, I'd give off an off-the-cuff air, and no one could blame me for seeming stupid, because ... I'm, you know ... just speaking my thoughts ... just extemporizing.

It's interesting that I used the same symbol to trumpet both my swelled ego and my inferiority complex. But this paradox plagues so much young-person writing. As an older college student, I often had the urge to vomit when I read essays in the student newspapers that started -- as they so often did -- with "these are just a few of my ramblings..."

The authors were hedging their bets. "You can't blame me if it's lame. It's just RAMBLINGS. But ... you know ... every once in a while, a rambling contains the seed of a great truth!" It's the fool-in-King-Lear game. It's trying to have your cake and eat it too. But that's what youth is about, right? Having your cake and eating it too. Now that I'm middle aged, I'm happy if I just get to look at a photo of a cake in a catalog.
posted by grumblebee at 3:19 PM on December 13, 2006 [9 favorites]


This is a derail, but while we are talking about weird internet typographical tics:

WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH PEOPLE WHO WRITE THEIR E-MAIL MESSAGES IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS? IS IT THAT THEY ARE TOO LAZY TO USE THE SHIFT KEY? PLEASE ADVISE.
posted by jayder at 3:21 PM on December 13, 2006


I like to look at punctuation as tools to adjust the tempo of a sentence:

Ellipses slow down a sentence, and that usually indicates hesitation, emphasis, or a pause to think. If people type as they think, a result of the Instant Messaging Culture of Today (R), they fill in the gaps with ellipses.

They're weaker than periods, so if you use them at the end of a sentence, they inform the reader that the thought hasn't ended yet, or they act as an echo or a decrescendo, emphasizing the final words.

On preview, Milkman Dan hit the nail on the head.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 3:21 PM on December 13, 2006


I would take dots like that to mean a conversational tone

I think the problem is that there isn't general agreement -- even emotional (gut reaction) agreement -- about what the dots mean. So if you're using them, trying for a specific tone (laid back? conversational? improvisational? profound?) there's even less likelihood that the reader will understand than with standard punctuation.
posted by grumblebee at 3:22 PM on December 13, 2006


IMHO, it's more conversational. As well, from a blog writer's point of view, if you're writing simply to get it out rather than writing a polished piece of work, it's something to do as you think about your next point. And then when you're ready, you stop pushing the dots and proceed.
posted by perpetualstroll at 3:24 PM on December 13, 2006


it's something to do as you think about your next point.

That's really funny if you take it to its logical extreme.

Dear Diary ....................................................................................................................................................... today .............................................................................................................................................. well, nothing much happened .............................................................................................................................. what's should I write? .................................................................................................................................................................................................... never mind.
posted by grumblebee at 3:26 PM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


This is why I couldn't get past the first page of Death on the Installment Plan even though I really like the word "crummy."
posted by srs at 3:28 PM on December 13, 2006


"Dots are believed by many writers of our day to be a good substitute for effective writing. They are certainly an easy one. Let us have a few more..." -M.R. James, November 1929
posted by Hogshead at 3:35 PM on December 13, 2006 [2 favorites]


My friends and I use multiple . to denote that we're thinking of a response and not to interrupt our train of thought. So . (pause) . (pause) . (pause) . (pause) . (pause) . (pause) .


With us, our conversations easily get sidetracked and a new comment will almost alway knock away our current train of thought.
posted by Cog at 3:55 PM on December 13, 2006


Growing up, I saw ellipses used so many times to signify a sexual interlude ("She lifted her face to him and their mouths met in a fiery kiss..." "What do you want for breakfast?") that I always apply that theory to any inappropriately used ellipsis I now see. It adds a whole new facet to what the author is trying to say, like they are so passionate about the topic that they occasionally have to stop to masturbate or something (which may not be too far off the mark with Foley).
posted by forrest at 3:57 PM on December 13, 2006 [5 favorites]


Send 'em all back to elementary school, that's what I say.

"Dots are believed by many writers of our day to be a good substitute for effective writing. They are certainly an easy one. Let us have a few more..." -M.R. James, November 1929


Both written and spoken language evolves. Especially as the mediums used have changed. Physical limitations, costs and mechanisms have dramatically changed over the last 100 years, why shouldn't language?

Social cues which used to be visible are now emulated in other ways.

(I feel like I have to defend 'ellipses', because as you may easily verify here on MeFi, I use them extensively... ;-)
posted by jkaczor at 4:01 PM on December 13, 2006


There was a guy called Herb Caen who wrote for the SF Chronicle what he called a "three-dot column" where ellipses separated the topics. Mencken used the format in at least one essay that interpolated a F. Scott Fitzgerald "biography" about alcoholic beverages. Therefore using three dots (correctly using ellipses requires four dots if you're terminating a sentence) is stylish and it's only now catching on on teh Internets.
posted by jet_silver at 4:02 PM on December 13, 2006


jayder, THEY LONG FOR THE DAYS OF TELETYPE FULL STOP
posted by Listener at 4:06 PM on December 13, 2006


I have been guilty, right here on MetaFilter in my comments, of using the Trailing-Off ellipses. It seems to happen somewhat spontaneously. Sometimes a thought seems to end better that way...
posted by The Deej at 4:09 PM on December 13, 2006


A lot of email & online communication is about writing as talking rather than writing as writing hence particular developments in style, eg emoticons.

Exactly. Do you talk the same way when you're giving a speech, talking to your boss, and chatting with friends? No. The way you speak in these situations differs drastically (either that or people think you're a pompous ass for speaking formally during informal conversations, or an uneducated bufoon for speaking informally during a speech). With IM, email, online forums, etc. people have begun differentiating their writing in similar ways (not that they didn't before, but it's now even more prevalent). Using ellipses in informal writing (IMs, informal emails) can be a way of indicating some sort of informal pause. Personally, I use it most when my writing actually reflects a real conversation that has happend in which there were pauses. But I've also used it for the sarcasm reason given above, among many others.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 4:13 PM on December 13, 2006


Curiously enough, the vast majority of ellipses I see online and in e-mail are not actually ellipses (Unicode character 0x2026 or HTML entity …) but rather just three periods in a row.
posted by kindall at 4:29 PM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


Insecurity. I see them all over a Yahoo group (ptooey! I frequent, where most of the subscribers are female and don't seem all that comfortable expressing themselves in writing. I think that some women are afraid of looking too self-confident, and the dots look friendlier, YKWIM? LOL! At least maybe... that might be it... they're not as assertive as a full-stop...

(insert animated .gif displaying the age of your three children here)
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:47 PM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


I tend to think of them, when I use them, as the positive side to The corpse in the library's argument. They seem to soften the thought a bit, to indicate I'm not trying to have the last word, that I'm aware there's probably more to say but I'm a little unsure what it might be.

I'm happy being definite when I *am* definite; I don't think it's a permanent insecurity. Just a way to sometimes indicate that I'm not being as egomaniacal as usual.
posted by occhiblu at 4:53 PM on December 13, 2006


How can the misuse of the ellipses be easier than the correct use of a semicolon? I think if someone must resort to creative punctuation on a regular basis then he could probably stand to improve his writing skills. These are not situations where the punctuation is simply absent (which is easy enough to do inadvertently if you aren't up on your comma rules), but one of deliberate laziness. A well-placed semicolon does a great job of indicating a pause. A reader should not be made to work harder simply because the writer can't be bothered to employ correct punctuation. You can have way too much fun dreaming up just the right phrase to let bad punctuation act as a substitute.
posted by Lockjaw at 4:53 PM on December 13, 2006


I rarely use ellipses, but these days I find that I'm using dashes all over the place. None of my professors seem to complain - so I guess it can't be too bad.
posted by matkline at 4:54 PM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


It is a matter of style - period. (Pardon the pun.) Many authors of bestselling books now do this within sentences. Styles change. Things change. I don't always like it, but change happens. This is simply one of them

---
posted by Gerard Sorme at 4:55 PM on December 13, 2006



Ive just done a little search through my sent emails folder and yeah I tend to do that quite a bit. (i wanted to put it at the end of that sentence there.)

It depends on the type of email, I do it with chatty emails with freinds, but I never would with an email to my boss.
This is because there are two ways I write, if its an official message Ive usually thought about exactly what I want to get accross before I start writing. I plan it out and think about it a bit more.

If im doing a conversation type email I tend to write more like a trail of thought. I think its a product of not thinking of sentences before you write them down, then you get to the end you add the full stop, and then you think about the sentence and wonder if it made sense.. and add a few more dots... which sort of gives you the ability to continue that trail of thought if you want.
posted by phyle at 5:02 PM on December 13, 2006


Curiously enough, the vast majority of ellipses I see online and in e-mail are not actually ellipses (Unicode character 0x2026 or HTML entity …) but rather just three periods in a row.

I don't like the real ellipses... it's too short.
posted by smackfu at 5:11 PM on December 13, 2006


It represents diminished intellectual capacity on the part of the author.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:28 PM on December 13, 2006


I like to think of it as people using Shatner-cadence:

Must... not let... my guard down... or the alien menace... will... affect my brain.

Makes reading email from people who do it a lot funnier.
posted by quin at 5:55 PM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


Is

"I just emailed _. Hes such a nice guy. Acts much older than his age. And hes in really great shape."

any better?


Try

I just emailed _____. He's such a nice guy—acts much older than his age. And he's in really great shape.

or

I just emailed _____. He's such a wonderful guy: nice, acts much older than his age, and he's in really great shape.

Basically, people do it because they don't have the facility with punctuation to make it second nature and they don't feel like thinking hard to write informally. See also: em-dashes (which, for the benefit of above commenters, are NOT the same as a hyphen).
posted by dame at 6:46 PM on December 13, 2006


I like the comment by forrest. I think I will try it out in spoken words the next time I see you, honey.

I have replaced our usual sexual interlude with one punctuated entirely by ellipsis. Let's see if he notices.

"Oh... Elliott*... how I have... missed you so..." She... moaned as she caressed his shiny... waxed chest... lovingly.

*some names and details may have been changed


Darn it. Now all I can hear when I read that is William Shatner playing me in the T.V. movie of our lives.

On a serious note, you know that I totally agree with you. This is an actual note from my boss. Seriously, I have not added any extra periods here:

"I am glad that you got there ok........be careful on your way back..... call and let us know when you start back.... Have fun...................."

Why on earth would someone do that? Please note that the last 'sentence' includes nearly three times as many punctuation marks than letters.
posted by Inside Out Girl at 6:46 PM on December 13, 2006


I don't believe for one second that these are thoughtfully-placed pauses. It's just a lack of adherence to elementary punctuation rules. Some people simply think those things aren't important, or that using correct punctuation looks too formal or ostentatious. I find it does a real disservice to the message they're trying to convey, but I find using no punctuation at all (which is also widespread) to be a much worse offense.

And then there's using "lol" as punctuation...
posted by loiseau at 6:50 PM on December 13, 2006


I doubt it's a new style so much as illiteracy, Gerard Sorme, and I say that because so many people who use it have great trouble articulating exactly what they're trying to convey with the dots and why.

There's a difference between the emergence of a new style and boshing out any old shit at the keyboard and hoping it works at the other end.
posted by bonaldi at 6:53 PM on December 13, 2006


Growing up, I saw ellipses used so many times to signify a sexual interlude ("She lifted her face to him and their mouths met in a fiery kiss..." "What do you want for breakfast?") that I always apply that theory to any inappropriately used ellipsis I now see.

As do I. There's one MeFite who uses them very often, and whenever I see one, I assume that he's leaving out "and then I was anally raped by a goat and it was awesome."

Or it's ignorant and illiterate. Either or.
posted by solid-one-love at 7:41 PM on December 13, 2006 [3 favorites]


It can be a useful way of showing a pause.

Image this conversation:

A: This really sucks.
B: yeah . . .

The ellipsis is a stand in for the kind of awkward pause that we would place there in a live conversation.

I agree that gratuitous use is obnoxious, but I believe that in some (informal) instances, ellipses are a useful tool. Communicating through this crazy text-only medium is difficult, and any conventions that make it easier are all right by me.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:20 PM on December 13, 2006


See also telegraphese.
posted by rob511 at 8:36 PM on December 13, 2006


They are (often) used to indicate tone and timing. To me, all three of these statements sound different:

"I went to the store. I bought you the oranges you wanted."
"I went to the store; I bought you the oranges you wanted."
"I went to the store... I bought you the oranges you wanted."

They are not equivalent. The last one has a longer pause and a less strong tone. To my ears, anyway. Ellipses are a legitimate way to express this. It is true that some people use them as a tic of sorts, but that doesn't mean they don't have a use -- especially in e-mail and online forums where posts are conversational and not generally formal. (Nor should they be formal, IMHO.)
posted by litlnemo at 10:15 PM on December 13, 2006


I do this all the time. Never in formal communications, but often enough when I'm IMing with friends or writing in my blog. And I'm sure I've done it in countless comments here on MetaFilter. Primarily for me it's because I'm pausing to think about what I want to write next.
posted by antifuse at 2:20 AM on December 14, 2006


There's absolutely nothing wrong with ellipses. The 1936 novel "Death On The Installment Plan" was written entirely in them. It reminds me of older authors who used dashes everywhere.
posted by inksyndicate at 4:38 AM on December 14, 2006


Okay, I know how one properly uses an ellipsis as a pause or to indicate trailing off and what these people are doing isn't that. What I was asking is why people I know to have been capable writers in the past now use punctuation like they are uneducated simpletons.

Seeing every sentence end in >3 periods makes me think you are an idiot and if you can't take the time to write out a complete, coherent thought I don't wait to waste my time reading your stream of consciousness rambling.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 6:22 AM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


I blame poor translations of JPRGs.
posted by mealy-mouthed at 6:54 AM on December 14, 2006


dame is correct, as is so often the case.

Both written and spoken language evolves. Especially as the mediums used have changed. Physical limitations, costs and mechanisms have dramatically changed over the last 100 years, why shouldn't language?
Social cues which used to be visible are now emulated in other ways.


While I'm a big believer in accepting the evolution of language, the flaw in your argument is that there is no "visible social cue" here. Nobody knows what your ellipses are supposed to mean. They're just hanging there looking stupid. It's exactly like putting an "uh" between every one of your sentences when you're speaking, except it's stupider because it's hard to correct bad speech habits, but you can very easily just not type the dots.

I'm pausing to think about what I want to write next.

Fine, stop and think. Why make us suffer for it?

Isn't anybody going to say that the three dots are to mourn the deaths of three people?
posted by languagehat at 7:11 AM on December 14, 2006 [2 favorites]


Speaking as a professor who has the unenviable task of grading student writing, I can say with authority that these trends may have begun in online communication, but they've crossed the line into everyday writing. You might be surprised at the number of college students who cannot string a sentence together. One student even had the gall to get angry with me for correcting her writing; she complained that as our course was not an English class, I had no right to give her a low grade based on her writing skills. My reply was that although it was not an English course, I didn't expect her to suddenly forget everything she should have learned in high school.

One paper in particular still grates on me. The student actually used "u" in place of "you" in an essay. My response was that if this assignment meant so little to the student that she couldn't bother to type out a three-letter word, I couldn't be bothered to grade it.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:32 AM on December 14, 2006


Speaking as a professor...

It took me years to grasp punctuation, because no one taught it to me well. Commas were a particular problem. I can't tell you how many teachers told me that I should place a comma where I'd pause if I was speaking the sentence aloud. I would do EXACTLY that, only to be told that I'd put the comma in the wrong place.

The trouble with basing punctuation around where you would pause is that pauses are somewhat arbitrary. For instance, if I was speaking that last sentence aloud (and if I was in a histrionic mood), I might say, "...pauses are somewhat (pause) arbitrary." But my teachers would have rightly chastised me for writing, "...pauses are somewhat, arbitrary."

I DO think the pause rule works (as a rough guide) AFTER you understand that mechanics -- after you understand the grammatical rules for comma placement. And I also think that great writers find all sorts of genius ways to break the rules effectively. But only after they have mastered the rules well enough to understand how and why they are breaking them. Picasso only delved into cubism after learning how to paint realistically.

To me, all three of these statements sound different:

"I went to the store. I bought you the oranges you wanted."
"I went to the store; I bought you the oranges you wanted."
"I went to the store... I bought you the oranges you wanted."


Yes. To YOU. The point is: how do these sentences read to most people. And, when you're writing, do you care? To me, a comma and a semi-colon don't call to mind different-length pauses. I use mostly use semi-colons to mark when I'm leaving out a conjunction. Instead of "I came home, and checked the mail," I might write "I came home; checked the mail." I use semi-colons for other reasons, but few of them have to do with pause length.

So who is crazy (or eccentric), me or the guy who thinks semi-colons and dots indicate different-length pauses? Maybe neither of us. Maybe we all have our own ideas of what these punctuation-marks mean. Which is a problem, no? Maybe when I write, a question mark means I expect the reader to spin around three times and spit, but I doubt many readers will understand that.

Languages changes? Yes. But we should take care not to excuse any bastardization by saying that.

Actually, that's the crux of the issue. Threads like this are bound to be contentious, because there are (at least) two very different sorts of relationships that people have with language, which we could call the functional and the aesthetic. (Most people relate in both ways to some extent, but people tend to be biased one way or the other.)

The functional person is happy with "R u cummin over 2 my house tday.....?" Whereas I'm disgusted. The functional person, reacting to my disgust, will likely say (I've heard this time and time again), "What's the problem? You know what he MEANS." As if the only purpose of language is to convey literal meaning. The functional person will also accuse me of people a martinet, of picking nits, of making a big deal over something minor.

Someone (Mark Twain, I think -- can anyone find the source) once responded to "you know what he MEANS" by saying that when a singer sings off-key, you know what he means to be singing, but that doesn't stop the song from being painful to listen to. We don't care what a singer MEANS to sing. We care that he sings the correct notes.

Is language like a song (does it have to have, always, even in informal conversation) an aesthetic quality or is it merely functional? Are those two aspects even separable? If language doesn't "sing", does that detract from its ability to get its point across? I'd argue that often it does, because off-key language is less evocative than language that's in tune, and the full emotional impact of what we're trying to evoke is part of our (functional) meaning.

Even with really literal, pedestrian information, like "B there @ 7pm," the hackery hurts -- at least for someone like me -- who likes to hear music sung right. It's hard for me to pay attention to the message, because I'm too busy wincing. It's like a diner putting up a sign that says EGGS AND BACON, ONE DOLUR. I get it, but I'm distracted, and my distraction may stop me from choosing that diner.

But I recognize that some people really don't care. They really feel that if their literal meaning gets across -- even if it gets across in an ugly way -- that's good enough. Alas, those people and people-like-me have to co-exist. I fear we'll aways look askance at each other.

One thing that does confuse me: the constant claim that it's hard to communicate effectively over mediums like IM, and so new modes of grammar/punctuation are necessary or understandable. Why? I never used to be into IM, but in my new job, I have to IM all the time. And I generally do so using complete sentences, standard spelling and standard punctuation. And it's never a hardship to do so.

Now, I'm lucky/skilled in certain ways. I'm a professional writer; I come from a family of writers; I type fast. Many people don't have these skills. Which is fair enough. But that has nothing to do with "a new medium." That has to do with education, training and experience.

Isn't the real issue that up until recently, we were living in a world in which the written word was dying? Young people paid more attention to the visual and auditory -- and didn't find it worthwhile to learn the rules of prose. Then, all of the sudden, we were plunged into a world of text. Typed words are now the main means of communication for most people. Do schools teach kids how to use grammar and punctuation for emails and IM systems? If they do, I hope they don't tell the kids to put commas -- or dots -- where they'd pause if they were speaking.
posted by grumblebee at 8:24 AM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


See also: em-dashes (which, for the benefit of above commenters, are NOT the same as a hyphen).

I wish it was easy, on a standard keyboard, to create an m-dash and a true ellipsis (as opposed to three periods). And I wish, even if I remembered the codes for these symbols, that I could be sure that they'd translate into all online email/message-board systems.
posted by grumblebee at 8:29 AM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


Maybe ellipses can be used as a sort of ink blot test. For example, this:

"I went to the store... I bought you the oranges you wanted."

When I read that, the ellipses adds a kind of ominous tension to the sentence. Like the speaker has a meat cleaver hidden behind his/her back and is ready to pounce on the stupid, vapid, annoying, inhuman, ungrateful Orange Eater and slash him/her into bloody shreds before the first bit of orange peel falls, in slow motion, to the now blood soaked kitchen floor.

Maybe it's just me.
posted by The Deej at 8:52 AM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it's just you, but it's not me.

I'm totally confused by the ellipses in your example. If I had to make a wild guess, it would be much more pedestrian: the dots mean that he stayed in the store for twenty minutes before buying the oranges. Maybe he was having trouble figuring out what sort of soda to buy.

I don't get why the dots should necessarily be ominous.

I get your "ink blot" reference. So are you the sort of person who is always looking over his shoulder?
posted by grumblebee at 9:17 AM on December 14, 2006


I wish it was easy, on a standard keyboard, to create an m-dash and a true ellipsis (as opposed to three periods).
Get a Mac: everyone who cares about typography should already have one anyway. En-dash(–) is option-hyphen, Em-dash(—) is shift-option-hyphen. Ellipsis (…) is option-semicolon.

God knows what they come out like on PCs, I don't care.
posted by bonaldi at 10:01 AM on December 14, 2006


The Deej : Maybe it's just me.

Nope, I see it to. I read it as:

"I went to the store...[pregnant pause while speaker relishes the delicious irony of providing fresh fruit for his intended victim. The citric acid paralleling so nicely with what he intended to do with the remains, along with the obvious comparison of having to remove the rind to get to the good bits; God, he's a sick evil fucker...] I bought you the oranges you wanted."

Isn't it obvious to any reader that this is the correct subtext?
posted by quin at 10:10 AM on December 14, 2006


quin; this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
posted by The Deej at 10:52 AM on December 14, 2006


grumblebee, I can hear what you're thinking.
posted by The Deej at 10:55 AM on December 14, 2006


An idiot I used to work with signs his emails with an ellipsis after his name, as if to suggest that there is oh so much more to his identity. Or perhaps it's merely an analog to his tendency to fall asleep in meetings.
posted by bingo at 11:17 AM on December 14, 2006


Ooo, I like that!

Darryl...
posted by The Deej at 11:28 AM on December 14, 2006


grumblebee, I can hear what you're thinking.

Really? What does a quadratic equation sound like?
posted by grumblebee at 11:31 AM on December 14, 2006


What does a quadratic equation sound like?

Deafening white noise looped through a flanger, percussed by kettle drums, and augmented by crystal harmonics.

[I don't like math.]
posted by quin at 12:08 PM on December 14, 2006


Yeah! What my new best friend quin said.
posted by The Deej at 12:26 PM on December 14, 2006


Deafening white noise looped through a flanger, percussed by kettle drums, and augmented by crystal harmonics.

That might be the Laplace Transform.

Quadratic equations sound more like descending and ascending octaves, played on a pure square-wave instrument.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:35 PM on December 14, 2006


The Deej and quin - I 'hear' the pause as you two illustrate (I heard it as the oranges aren't very good oranges but here they are anyway). The problem is, as grumblebee states, is that other people won't hear the pause and find the ellipses annoying or hear it and misinterpret it.

Back to the question - obviously there are as many reasons as there are answerers.

I was an ellipses abuser when I first started chatting (IRC); I think I picked it up from other chatters. I've squelched it by quite a bit, but I still use it in chatting, IM'ing and places like Mefi and Metachat. I tend to use it as a "pause" indicating I haven't ended my train of thought or I might use it to trail off a thought, as in "hmmm...".

Although some people find it annoying, I find it serves a purpose. Except for those long strings of them. WTF is that about?
posted by deborah at 3:05 PM on December 14, 2006


IM'ing and places like Mefi and Metachat. I tend to use it as a "pause" indicating I haven't ended my train of thought or I might use it to trail off a thought, as in "hmmm...".

See, here's what confuses me. I sort of get it with IM, because I take it you're using it as the digital version of an in-person chat. When we chat, we really don't (always) know where we're going with our sentences. We think we're done ... wait, are we? ... no we're not ... YES! we are.

But MeFi isn't a real-time chat (or is it?). I may not know how this sentence is going to end as I'm typing it, but once I'm done, I DO know how it's going to end. If I think I have more to say, but it turned out I don't, I can erase the three dots and put a period in their place. Or, if I have more to say, I can write another sentence or add a clause to an existing sentence.

I certainly know how everything has turned out before I hit the POST COMMENT button. Do people just dislike reading what they've written before posting? I always read my posts aloud ("aloud in my head" if I'm around other people), make a few tweaks (not hours of edits), and THEN hit post. It's easy.

The dot system seems to be great you're not into editing... wait, I meant great IF you're into editing... darn! ... I meant if you're NOT editing ... oh, heck ... you know what I mean!

But writing isn't writing without editing. It's brain-dumping.
posted by grumblebee at 4:22 PM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


San Francisco's late Herb Caen was well known for what he called three dot journalism. Caen started his column in the 30's, and probably picked up the style from other gossip/style columnists of the day such as Walter Winchell, emulating the telegraph-delivery style of his speech if not his actual punctuation.
posted by Araucaria at 4:28 PM on December 14, 2006


Real example from the Wild Wild Web:

in situations like these the "truth" depends upon the participant's perspective ....no heroes or villains here...it's just a movie......peter weir walked away from a project with johnny depp (just months ago)because of "creative differences"...entertainment media spin stories like this dependent upon whose involved...do they like to stir up controversey to milk the situation thoroughly?...lordy..lordy they certainly do....are there whisper campaigns generated from within the industry to create negative buzz ...but of course....inclusive tolerant hollywood is mythology

Rewrite:

In situations like these the "truth" depends upon the participant's perspective: no heroes or villains here. It's just a movie.

Peter Weir walked away from a project with Johnny Depp (just months ago) because of "creative differences." Entertainment media spin stories like this dependent upon who's involved. Do they like to stir up controversy to milk the situation thoroughly? Lordy! Lordy, they certainly do. Are there whisper campaigns generated from within the industry to create negative buzz? But of course! Inclusive tolerant Hollywood is mythology.
posted by grumblebee at 5:19 PM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


I doubt it's a new style so much as illiteracy, Gerard Sorme, and I say that because so many people who use it have great trouble articulating exactly what they're trying to convey with the dots and why.

One of the great political books of all time is What It Takes: The Way To The White House by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ben Cramer. Here is a .jpg of a partial page in this monumental 1047 page book. He uses the "three dot" whatever you want to call it on every page.

GS
posted by Gerard Sorme at 6:42 PM on December 14, 2006


I've never read Cramer's book, but judging from the page you posted, I like his conversational style. Still, I'm confused by some of his ellipses.

I think I get the first one: "Loss, in a vote, he knew ... too well." That's a dramatic pause, right? I think it would be stronger as "Loss, in a vote, he knew. Too well." But I guess that's kind of arbitrary. (Although I think more people agree that a period indicates a pause than an ellipses, so my way will connect with more people.)

I'm baffled by "He was the first to admit ... how it was." Can someone explain that to me? It looks like a quotation in which the ellipsis is used to indicate that some of the speaker's original words have been edited out, but as-far-as I can tell from the context, it's not a quotation. And if it's a pause, it's an oddly timed pause.

This also confuses me: "She had to look inside, too ... and she did." The only thing I can imagine -- and I'm probably grasping at straws -- is that the dots are supposed to indicate her pausing between knowing she had to look inside and actually looking inside. If that's true, it's a really clumsy, vague way of evoking that action.

I feel the same way about "He blamed himself...." Are the dots a silent indication that he's blaming himself in his mind? Fine, but they're unnecessary. If Cramer had just written, "He blamed himself", it would have meant the same thing without adding a potential confusion.
posted by grumblebee at 5:40 AM on December 15, 2006


grumblebee, I think the narrator is supposed to be recounting a very difficult experience. He pauses periodically because he's having such a hard time putting his strong emotions into words, which is why he uses a vague phrase like "how it was" instead of elaborating.

It helps me if I imagine a deep sigh whenever I see the ellipses, as if the narrator's struggling.

I don't think "Loss, in a vote, he knew. Too well." indicates that uncertainty or difficulty that a set of ellipses convey. A period is very deliberate and thought out.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 10:10 AM on December 16, 2006


Oh! Well, if it's an attempt to capture realistic spoken English, then I have no problem with it. But then I don't think it's a good example of the issue discussed here. It's essentially dialogue (or, rather, a monologue), and different rules apply to dialogue than to standard prose.
posted by grumblebee at 3:49 PM on December 16, 2006


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