Posted by: Jack Henry | May 7, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Ellipses Uproar

The other day, Joe Biden announced that he’s running for president in 2020. No comment from me about the politics, but I’m here to tell you about the uproar he caused in the world of grammar and punctuation. Here is his tweet:

So, what is it, exactly, that caused the punctuation police to go bonkers? Most of the conversation was about the overuse of the ellipses, though his attempted em dashes are a mess, too. First, a suggested rewrite of the tweet with more appropriate punctuation:

“The core values of this nation—our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America, America—are at stake. That’s why I’m announcing my candidacy for president of the US.”

But let’s talk about the ellipsis (also called the “suspension point”) and why it might irritate people with its overuse. Here is an excerpt from an article at Quartz Obsession (thank you, Joni!):

An ellipsis is defined as a mark indicating a pause, or “the omission of one or more words that are obviously understood but that must be supplied to make a construction grammatically complete,” according to Merriam-Webster. It can also imply a “sudden leap of one topic to another.”

Dashes can be employed to a similar effect. But, as Katy Waldman writes in Slate, “dashes—useful and lovely though they are—are not … ellipses. They excel at representing interruptions, trains of thought abruptly shorn off. Meanwhile, an ellipsis trails away gradually, delicately, all hesitance and apprehension.”

A symbol of hesitancy, apprehension, indecision, and more to come sounds tailor-made for the internet. As instant chat became more popular in the ’90s, designers began to use the ellipsis as a “typing awareness indicator.” While intended to reassure the person on the other side that a response was forthcoming…its unintended effect was an intense anxiety when a response was taking too long….

In actual text, ellipses have over time come to be misused to indicate…well, it’s unclear. “Hesitation, confusion, and apathy — they’re the most passive-aggressive of all the punctuation marks,” writes Paris Martineau for the Outline. It’s because ellipses can often be read to imply that something is missing or unspoken that their overuse drives readers crazy. “Leaving something unsaid at the end of a sentence is invariably full of potential danger,” linguist David Crystal tells Martineau.

The result of the discussion was that you don’t want to run for president and fill your statement with symbols of omission. Of course, we can also apply that to our own professional writing and make sure to use punctuation according to the standard rules and regulations. Punctuation marks have meaning. We shouldn’t throw them around like confetti. It makes people anxious.

If you’re interested in more facts about the ellipsis or you want to read the entire article, it is here.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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