Saturday, March 7, 2009

Please Do Not Abuse the Ellipses...

Something has been bugging me.....for've noticed an increase in....emails and postings......that look like this.......I know it must seem kind of natural--when you're typing.......and you pause to think about your next phrase....or sentence....--to rest your ring finger down on that period key.....while you come up with the next little bit. Especially in emails....which are after all, an informal method of communication.....It seems like it might be okay......

But it's not.

Reading an email written like sort of like watching someone.....who has clearly got a good sneeze.........coming on.......but they just can't quite.......get it.......out.

Have you ever been in that situation? Do you feel the tension? Don't you just wish they would sneeze already? And turn their attention back to the conversation? It might be useful to think of a period as being that sneeze. We are relieved when it finally comes. And the tension stops.

And we need the tension to stop.

We have enough tension as it is, what with the 401k statement due anyday now, and the sullen teenager in the next room who hasn't spoken a complete sentence in the last week, and then there's whatever bad news the TV newsfolk have delivered this evening, and we should probably think about eating something for dinner, and the laundry, and oh, crap, that gift needs to be wrapped....

We have our own we know how they work.....We pause when we're writing, too.....And think up the next little bit......But we really don't need you to share.....this part of the process....with us.

It it hurts us.....your readers, that is.....when you do this....because......we perceive a signal to insert our own thoughts.......a kind of drifting off, a fill-in-the-blank-your-way suggestion. But if you're just using get one from one phrase or thought to the next.....then our thoughts don't they?

We need direction from you. Please. In the same way that going back and reading the working papers of our favorite novelists can be a real downer, so can watching the process of concocting an email. We wouldn't be reading your communication if we didn't want to know what you think. And we want your best work. We need to know when you've finished one thought. And are on to the next.

That's one of the blessings of written communication, isn't it? If your brain is a little wonky, you can cover it up! Take advantage. Celebrate the fact. Nobody can see you compose the email. You can jot down as many random, incoherent thoughts as you want. Then you can use cut/paste, or delete, or the punctuation keys to make it appear that your prose falls effortlessly and perfectly formed straight from your our ears.



  1. Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. Note to writers: if your characters end every line of dialogue with ..." you have a problem. If you have more than one ... on a page (and on most pages!), you have a problem. And I will circle and cross out Every. Single. One.

  2. Good blog. I usually end up covering the problem up. I can usually tell how long I dosed off by how many pages of one letter I have to delete. I don't usually keep it on the period.

  3. I like how you compared the multiple ellipses like a coming sneeze. I personally like ellipses, and hope I don't overuse them.

  4. *hanging head down in shame*

    Guilty as charged. I promise to reform!


  5. Hmmm.....I'm trying to....think...if I use these much or not...except in .... dialogue when words know...traling off. I do, however, use "----" a lot. Using "dashes" is a very old habit with me in emails. Can't promise to stop, though!

    Just kidding! Good blog!

  6. Busted, I am so guilty. Now I will be thinking of the sneeze that finally ends the tension. Maybe that will cure! LOL
    Thanks for a great blog.

    Cindy Hernandez


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