The ellipsis

It’s fascinating to observe written material on the Internet- formal and informal. Not just that it’s often a grammatical mess, but what changes and why they might be changing. There are entire dissertations to be written about capitalization (why do conspiracy theorists, above all, have idiosyncratic capitalization?) and comma usage, but I’ll focus on one specific punctuation mark. The ellipsis.

On a technical level, there are only two reasons to use an ellipsis, defined by three periods with spaces between them ( . . . ) or with a bracket ([ . . .]).

  1. When quoting written material, to indicate that some content has been removed in the interests of space or keeping on a single subject. Used typically in the middle of a sentence; a quote rarely starts or ends with an ellipsis.
  2. When transcribing spoken material, to indicate some kind of pause or rest in what is being said.

Several people, such as posters on a forum I moderated several years ago, and a woman who comments on a Facebook page I run, have very creative uses for an ellipsis, or an ellipsis-like mark.

People often link full sentences with three periods (no spaces, so not a true ellipsis). Many rarely use a traditional period, ending each thought or post with a trailing triple-period.

Why do people write this way? I have a theory.

In spoken conversation, one has the benefit of tone of voice and body language. Some kind of trailing mark online could be a way to avoid sounding too direct (“We should hang out.” versus “We should hang out…”). Another is a way to encourage response without posing a direct question [Canadians use ‘eh?’ to turn a statement into a question, in a brilliant grammatical innovation]. It would be bizarre, however, to think that someone who writes a whole paragraph linked by triple-periods has some kind of larger statement they’ve whittled down for length. Maybe they have, and good on them for sparing us some unnecessary reading.

This post was created due to the copywriter author talking to another copywriter in a bar.

Author: AJM

Writer, sociologist, Unitarian Universalist.

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