Friday, June 27


First of all, I realize that this will be the third time I’ve had a blog post with this title, which might make this one a bit more ironic.

In any case, last night I was thinking about the American tendency to end sentences by trailing off into the conversational ether. For example, when people start a story or thought and then finish with “so…” without really coming to a full stop. I know I'm guilty of this myself at times, and I can’t really point fingers, so…

I’ve decided that the reason for this is mostly laziness. It’s basically saying, “I’ll lay down the tracks for this train of thought, but hopefully you can see where it leads and I won't actually have to articulate the whole thing.” Of course this is mostly done between people who know each other well enough to finish each others’ sentences anyway, but that still doesn’t excuse the ennui that leads to deliberately unfinished thoughts.

After all, when I used to be an editor (the links at the beginning of this post are quite old; that’s no longer my job) I would never let an author end a phrase with an ellipsis. Granted, I mostly dealt with sheet music, but I also edited the accompanying text and I'm passionate about the written word as well.

The “…” punctuation literally stands for an undefined, and possibly unuttered, group of words. For instance, if you wish to quote someone and leave out a portion, you'd use it in the place of what you blanked out: “Mary had a […] lamb.” When it's used deliberately (by that, I mean “not editorially”) at the end of a phrase or sentence, it leaves the intention of the writer completely up to the interpretation of the reader. And since my number-one priority as an editor and a writer is clarity, using an ellipsis in such a way is completely anathema to my preferred style.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its uses. In casual conversation (i.e. the spoken word, personal email), I suppose it can be tolerated quite a bit. And, in the hands of a skilled writer, it can be an interesting rhetorical device. However, when the intent is to convey information clearly, three dots in succession just don't belong anywhere.

My thoughts on this matter were perfectly punctuated this morning by the new Wondermark (link below). I don’t know whether to laugh at the absurdity or cry over the reference to modern lack of expression. I’ll probably do both.

Wondermark by David Malki ! - 420: In which One Thing sparks Another, and So On

1 comment:

Sachz said...

There was a time when writing formally everywhere was important to me. Since the invention of internet access for practically everyone, that 'need' disappeared rather quickly.

I saw a buddy of mine do the "..." in casual IM about 12 years ago, and ever since then I choose to use it as a separation of two thoughts that I don't want to use different paragraphs for... similar to a pause in thought. I'm not a professional writer, pretend to be, or even care to be. Not really interested in strict writing guidelines in casual conversation, and when online... that's typically all there is.

I'm actually doing the "..." thing more during this comment just to be annoying though. There's a time for formal and a time for 'who cares'. Only if you're getting paid or are overly passionate about something should there be that level of pickiness.

Now this 'absurdity' is nothing near the level of what kids on MySpace or those text message fiends get away with. Plus there was question about allowing internet speak into the classrooms, as if it was even remotely acceptable...

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The Geek Code desperately needs updating, but in any case here's mine (as of 2010-02-28):

Version: 3.12
GIT/MU d+(-) s:+>: a C++> ULXB++++$ L+++ M++ w--() !O !V P+ E---
W+++ N o++ K? PS PE++ Y+ PGP t !5 X- R- tv+@ b++ DI++++ D--- e*++
h--- r+++ y+++ G+

If you really care about knowing what that all means, you either know the code already, or you can get it decoded for you here.