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I … have to … make a confession …: I think if you wedge ellipses in text, you are inadvertently robbing your message of any linear train of thought.
The written word has long been committed to the development of styles and conventions, but if I can be a Curmudgeon for a moment, at no point in history has the English lexicon been dot-by-dot interspersed to such a prodigious extent. At the risk of sounding like an ageist, the truth remains that this is a quirk of the oldest among us – a cohort that grew up without the convenience and curse of an all-inclusive internet and thrived into adulthood. But instead of belittling boomers – or anyone – who haven’t yet adapted their communications to the digital age, I hope this helps.
That is why your texts – and everyone who reads them – deserve more than multiple ellipses.
They make it seem like something is wrong
Don’t let your reader analyze the subtlety in your text messages. For most Millennials and Gen Z members (and even some Gen Xers), texting is a primary means of communication, even if it can be really boring and impersonal. If you answer “OK …”, a text reader may feel like they are leaving something unsaid. For example, what is derived from the three remaining points that make your sentence beg for finality?
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Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author of Because Internet: Understanding the New Language Rules, recently discussed this very subject USA today.
In short, it boils down to using the storage space that is of paramount importance when talking on a digital device. She told the paper that ellipses are far less awkward in handwritten letters, where normal transitions in thought and syntax are usually easier to decipher.
Whenever you’re writing someone a letter or postcard, you know that using a small punctuation mark is an efficient way to get from one thought to the next (using the space).
However, when it comes to a digital medium, the ellipses are gradually being adjusted in favor of line breaks, which are a more direct way of moving from one thought to the next. She sums it up and says, “Computer space is cheap and a line break takes the same amount of code as dot-dot-dot.”
It’s a very specific grammatical convention
An ellipse is not a period. Yes, technically there are three periods, each separated by a full room. Its actual function, however, is quite different from the old-fashioned dot, as it varies depending on the medium being written.
No ellipses are really the same. Uses vary by format, from novels and news to letters and more slang media such as a text message.
As a grammar lover at Explain your dictionaryThe three things you might find in your inboxes are very misunderstood down the line:
The ellipseThese three consecutive periods that you often see in novels and news are among the most misunderstood punctuation marks used in the English language. It’s used indiscriminately in text messages, instant messages, and emails, and social networking sites and blogs have not helped contain the trend.
For example, when writing messages (which we do here at Lifehacker), ellipses are designed to add clarity to an otherwise unclear quote by leaving out what doesn’t need to be said. It is used when a word salad of a quote can be compressed to give the reader much more clarity.
Using the example of your dictionary, this quote is:
“We have found absolutely positively, without a doubt, by drawing our conclusions from all available data and understanding the effects of the recent arson, that this fire was accidental.”
Will this quote:
“We found positive … that this fire was accidental.”
The use of ellipses is even more nuanced. When used in novels or other books, they are intended to provide a pause in dialogue or in the plot of a story. That said, this rule creates the first point: if you are using an ellipse it may seem like there is more to be said and you may be holding back your true intent.
Too many ellipses are just hard to read
If … you … communicate … so … you are … not … very … easy … to … understand. That is perhaps the most basic reason to remove the ellipses from text communication.
Whether you’re trying to reflect on the slow trickle of your thoughts as they form into words or you’ve somehow forgotten that the keyboard has a space bar, remember that it is enough to keep your eyes on this type of grammar to judge with ham hands to provoke a seizure. An ellipse is far too specific to a grammatical convention to be used vaguely. Also, texts look better if you just use normal line breaks.