Marks My Words: Next Stop…the Ellipsis

Opinion by Miriam Marks
Feb. 25, 2011, 12:23 a.m.

Marks My Words: Next Stop...the EllipsisIn my feverish attempts to avoid the pages and pages of reading I have every week, I find myself on Gchat with my friends all too often. The other night, as I wiled away the minutes of an all-too-long study break, I paused…There were so many ellipses! In contrast to the academic paper pulled up on my computer screen, the Gchat window was characterized by more three-letter acronyms, a lack of proper capitalization and a host of little dots clustered in groups of three.

What is the new, evolving ellipsis? To answer this question, think about the extent to which we communicate with the written word. Ignore the laments that students are not writing as well as they used to; in terms of the sheer amount of written communication, it seems as though young adults today rely on writing to talk to each other more than they would have done a generation ago. I’ve heard stories. Apparently, back in the day, if you were writing to a friend, you were probably writing a letter. You sat down and spent a long period of time articulating your thoughts in a large body of text.

Today, messages to friends travel instantly and have consequently grown shorter in length. Much shorter. “Dinner?” “Party tonight?” “Kk.” As our writing is transmitted more quickly to our friends, we have simultaneously condensed the size of our messages and altered the pattern of our writing. From what I’ve observed, our conversational writing more and more closely mirrors the way we speak.

And now for the ellipsis. There are, admittedly, several uses of the ellipsis. I most frequently use the ellipsis for, as it is described on Wikipedia, “an unstated alternative indicated by context.” Let’s say I were watching the new music video for “Hold It Against Me,” and I chose to tell someone, “That video was…interesting.” My ellipsis betrays that something else crossed my mind first, that I caught myself and opted not to say, “pretty creepy, plus I don’t think she’s a very talented dancer.”

There is also the exasperated ellipsis. In response to an outlandish request that begs an answer of “NO,” an ellipsis implies something akin to “are you serious?” or “what do you think my answer to your stupid question is?” One morning on Gchat, a frugal friend asked me if she could have my quarterly allocation of services provided by the SHPRC. Then she asked whether I could go and get them for her even as she specified a list of brands and flavors. She got a “…” in response.

These are what I would deem strategic ellipses, not to be confused with the filler ellipses. In order to define the filler ellipsis, allow me to showcase the habits of Elon (anonymous name). Elon uses A LOT of ellipses. In any sort of written communication, be it messages on Gchat, in e-mails with friends or in texts, Elon refuses to use commas, semicolons, or even periods. A typical paragraph written by Elon contains about one ellipsis per six to eight words.

What’s the big deal, you ask? So what if ellipses are his preferred and only form of punctuation? If our writing increasingly mirrors our colloquial speech, which I think is true, then the use of the ellipsis is a written expression of our pauses and silences in conversation. When speaking with a friend, no one is completely fluid and graceful; we naturally stumble for the next word, throw in a couple “like”s and substitute gestures and sounds for real words. Those are our spoken ellipses.

Here’s the problem. Because our day-to-day communication by writing looks more and more like our manner of speaking, there is undoubtedly an influence by our writing upon our speaking, especially given that most of us text and Gchat each other all day. Is our colloquial manner of writing really starting to affect our speech? Yes. Without a doubt. Examples include: saying “lol,” saying “omg,” saying “lmfao.” (Don’t do this.)

The ellipsis is another example of the way in which our writing feeds our speech patterns. People are starting to use the ellipsis when they talk. This is manifested in several ways: pausing, using a lot of filler words, playing up the “awkward” silence. A conversation starts with a long, “Sooo…” or contains lengthy pauses; statements come across hesitantly and lacking in conviction; a conversation loses structure when its participants are used to trailing off…

I think we lose out when our conversations are punctuated by ellipses. We lose the habit of thinking quickly on our feet, of being articulate and of using the right word at the right time. From an academic standpoint, I guess this could harm students’ abilities in the realm of oral presentations. From any sort of conversational standpoint, it makes conversations lackluster, slow and prolonged. Would you want to read a paragraph full of ellipses? I wouldn’t want to have a conversation like that either.

Miriam wonders if this made any sense…[email protected]

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