September 24th, 2013

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Tuesday Word: ellipsis

It's that time again, readers! I suppose I'll be spending tomorrow fielding irate responses to overly critical, utterly tactless comments left on articles, journal entries, poems, and short stories overnight and while in a state of advanced sleep deprivation fueled by self-righteous rage, attempting to saw myself out of a papier mâché ampersand costume with a steak knife and wiping the blood and animal matter off of a copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. (Am I cursing Lynne Truss or making sacrifices to her? The world may never know.) But for now, let's all just take a seat, calm down and celebrate National Punctuation Day like the rational, dignified creatures we are.

Now, I'm sure you're all familiar with the ellipsis. The word comes from the Greek élleipsis, meaning "omission." It's that series of dots, usually three (...), sometimes with four spaces ( . . . ) used to indicate that a quotation has not been reproduced in full. It is also one of two punctuation marks, along with the em dash (--), used to indicate aposiopesis, or the breaking off of a sentence, usually with the implication that the speaker/writer is unable or unwilling to continue.

A humble ellipsis inserted into a perfectly ordinary sentence can make it seem downright sinister.

"What did you do today?"
"I went for a walk."

"What did you do today?"
"I...went for a walk."
"With leather gloves on?"
"It was cold."
"And a crossbow?"
"...Yes"

People who pause too often when speaking or abandon their sentences outright can't be trusted. At the very least, they're thieves, stealing your time by refusing to get on with it already. Celebrate National Punctuation Day by finally making use of your local police department's anonymous tip line! You know you want to.

Ellipses can also be used to convey apathy, disappointment, confusion and no doubt a lot else. "I went to the mall today..." "Well, I went to that concert I was talking about earlier..." "He just kept talking..." "Why do I even bother..."

Here's a bit more for your Punctuation-Day festivities:

“life's not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis”
― E.E. Cummings

The official site?

"The Ancient Roots of Punctuation" by the lovely Keith Houston

And an ode to the ampersand:

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Happy National Punctuation Day! Now, on to the REAL party!