How the ellipsis is the slug trail of our text chat…

Scrubbing up
I’m going to get those pesky varmints if it’s the last thing I do!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it with the overuse of ellipses.

An ellipsis is a “series of dots that usually indicates an intentional omission of a word, sentence, or whole section from a text without altering its original meaning”. (Wiki)

Ellipsis look like this: …

And yes, I’m done with them.

On the other hand, I’m a big fan of the full point, or full stop (what North Americans call the ‘period’) when ending a statement. In chat, the considerate use full stops to politely let others know that they’ve finished what they are saying, and are now inviting the other person to either respond or comment.

I’ve recently began experimenting with the use of full stops to punctuate words in a phrase. For example: ‘Oh. My. God.’ Somehow, it seems so much more fitting to genuine frustration than the often used ‘OMG’ or ‘Oh my god’.

I also enjoy seeing and using commas when they help to communicate meaning. For example, I love cooking, my friends, and my cat. Commas are useful here, because I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I love cooking my friends and my cat.

One thing I find that crosses the grammatical misdemeanour line is the inappropriate apostrophe. Seriously people, lets get you’re apostrophe’s sorted!!! Oh, I mean, let’s get your apostrophes sorted!!! And. while I’m at it, keep your exclamation marks under control and stop yelling, for goodness sake.

On the flip side, I get positively giddy at the sight of a courageously and correctly used semi-colon; it’s used so rarely, so it really gets my attention.

Sometimes, when words fail, a single punctuation mark can stand in as emotive shorthand. For example, I’ll use the following punctuation marks (alone, without accompanying text) to communicate certain reactions:

  • a sole exclamation mark (!), when I’m surprised or shocked about something I just read
  • a sole question mark (?), when I want to communicate that I don’t understand what I’ve just read.

I appreciate that this might not be grammatically correct, but in a world where nonverbal cues are non-existent, I’ll use what I can to get my point across.

Which brings me… to the unfortunate use… and heinous over-use… of the ellipses. Just. Stop. It. Please!

Yes, the ellipsis can have important uses in online chat. For example, one might want to communicate that one hasn’t finished what one is saying yet (so don’t interrupt me) …

Or, one might want to communicate pauses, while emoting; although I might instead use a dash – because dashes are more confident and decisive. Just look at them; you know it’s true.

Sometimes, I’ll use the sole ellipsis when I’m waiting for someone to respond to my question, such as in the following example:

00:09:45 – Becky: “Hey Joe, how are you this morning?”

Insert the hopeful sound of typing here.

00:09:47 – Becky:  “…”

Insert more typing sounds, and Joe’s typing animation, here.

00:09:49 – Joe: “I’m ok”

The ellipsis, used in almost every other situation, suggests uncertainty, insecurity, distress, or confusion. Some might even consider it passive aggressive. No doubt you’ve had the dubious pleasure of seeing a mysterious ellipsis-followed response to something you might have said? Take the following exchange, for instance:

Becky: “I’d really like to listen to some good blues music and dance my butt off today!”

Joe: “ok…”

You can hear the sound of Joe’s “ok…” in your head, right?

What the hell is he intending to communicate? Is he trying to give me the impression that he agrees with what I’ve said, but not 100%? Does he like blues music, but not dancing to it? Or is it the blues music he’s uncertain about? Maybe he prefers rock? Does he need me to be more specific about when or where I’d like to go? Was my idea not specific enough, so now he’d like me to complete the thought? Does he have verbal constipation and just can’t get a proper response or comment out? Did he really feel the need to add those extra two keystrokes at the end of that full stop in some vague attempt to make me think that he’s deep, or lost somewhere in his ambiguous reverie?

No, just come off it. I know exactly what you’re doing, Joe. You keyed those extra two full stops deliberately. You’re trying to give me an attitude, or you’re silently judging the merit of my ideas, or you’re just generally trying to block my chi. Well, way to go, Joe! You did it! Job well done! Congratulations, shit head!

Ok, maybe I don’t exactly experience that reaction every time I see an ellipsis following a vague statement – like a verbal slime trail follows a slug of an incomplete thought. However, I bet it happens more often than we think.

So, when it comes to using the ellipsis: get a bloody spine. Stop lingering. Take a stand and be deliberate! Get off the fence and stop leaving verbal mucus all over my freshly polished chat space.

Don’t make me get the salt out, because you know I will.

17 thoughts on “How the ellipsis is the slug trail of our text chat…

      1. Hah. I don’t think being Dutch has to do with my (over)use of ellipsis, I do it in Dutch too!

        Actually, the blogpost I published this morning just before I read yours, is filled with them. I used them, in that post, meaning: there is more to come, as this particular post was a sort or remembering all kinds of moments – accompanied by pictures.
        I realise I tend to use them in chat often as well, and ever so often I hit backspace to remove them when I annoy myself!
        In texchat, to me, they mean the same as in said post: it means there is more to come but I am still finding words and do not want to keep the other(s) waiting for my endless ‘caitlin is typing….’ to end. Period.

        So, what is your opionon on the Oxford comma? It’s often misunderstood, no?

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        1. I’m a proponent of the Oxford Comma and I now use it habitually. It can make a big difference in the meaning of a phrase. Some people think they’re too cool to use Oxford Commas and like to trot out well known writers that fail to use them as proof that they’re not necessary, or even pretentious. These are the same people that consider adhering to dress codes as an affront to their individuality and creativity. I’ll show those rule-breakers who’s boss.

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  1. Although I’m guilty of using (overusing?) the ellipsis, I’d like to explain what they often mean when I use them. This doesn’t mean that everybody means the same, nor that I’m giving excuses to myself; maybe it gives another explanation as to why the ellipsis is used.

    In my mind, the ellipsis sounds as if my voice was fainting to almost silence as the phrase goes on. It has nothing with my judging, doubting… Unless the text clearly shows that. Or, at least I try to clearly show that. Text is difficult. This voice fainting happens often to me when I talk *in the real world*, and the ellipsis is the way I’ve found to communicate that tone in my voice.

    Unrelated question: Does WordPress allow for very basic HTML in comments? I ask for two reasons: because I don’t know if it allows so, and because when I’ve written between asterisks, I wanted that in italics. It seems that text in quotes isn’t understood 100% as in Spanish, and so I went for italics instead.

    That’s it for now. Have a good day 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

        1. Yes, it does. Use the open and close angle brackets (the ones above comma and full stop on your keyboard) around b (for bold), and then end with angle brackets again but put a slash (/) before the b. The code for italics is em (for emphasis). Do the same thing as above but replace b with em.

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  2. It’s funny… I’ve written plenty of posts like this myself, complaining about the little things that others do that get on my nerves. I’ve read plenty of others, too, but I think this might be the first time I’ve read one that could have been completely directed at me. I know I’m terribly guilty of overusing ellipses, but I love them.

    I consider myself a grammar Nazi to some extent (don’t get me started on misused quotation marks!) but I feel quite strong about my ellipses and my overuse and misuse of them. To me, they convey something that is easy to do when speaking out loud, yet almost impossible to write without them…

    I also dislike the Oxford comma. If anyone thinks that when I say I love cooking, my friends and my cat, it means I love cooking my friends and my cat then they’re either mentally deficient, and I can’t help them with that, or they’re being deliberately obtuse and pedantic.

    I suppose this post got under my skin because I’m guilty of the things you’re picking at. It will make me stop and think about what I’m posting in the future… but not because I’m going to stop using ellipses and start using the Oxford comma, but because of the way my words might make others feel. Even if my intent wasn’t to be hurtful, I don’t want anyone to be afraid to speak to me for fear I’m judging them on their grammatical and typing skills.*

    *Unless they start a conversation with “how r u?” Then all bets are off.

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  3. I’ve thought about this post quite a bit since I first read it, Becky. Whilst I just adore your metaphor of a slug trail (it’s right up there with the sponge slipping into a sink), the more and more I think about it, the more I have to conclude I take a different view. It’s a helpful reflection for me, however, because it’s made more concrete the realisation that what I find most difficult in text communication is the absence of non-verbal information.

    I don’t mean the absence of *actual* non-verbal information, like seeing someone’s facial expression or hearing their intonation – obviously that’s problematic to a degree, but there’s nothing we can do about the absence of that in text chat. I’m talking about the supplementary stuff we add to our text to provide some form of nonverbal. This might take the form of an emoticon such as a smiling face or an emote such as, “Huck smiles.”

    I touched on this subject in an article about ‘withheld smileys’ in 2013. (www.huckleberryhax.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/the-withheld-smiley/) That was rather tongue-in-cheek and focused on greetings, but the more and more I think about it, the more I realise just how hard I find it to interpret what someone says if non-verbal information is absent.

    Take your example:

    Becky: “I’d really like to listen to some good blues music and dance my butt off today!”
    Joe: “ok…”

    As you say, you can hear Joe’s ‘ok…’ in your head. You realise that he’s not on board with this idea. Perhaps he thinks it’s inappropriate for some reason. Perhaps he dislikes dancing. You don’t know until you ask – and, yes, that not knowing can be frustrating as hell. But, in and of itself, the elipsis has provided you with additional information: it’s a communication that something is amiss. Personally, I find that helpful.

    An alternative might be:

    Becky: “I’d really like to listen to some good blues music and dance my butt off today!”
    Joe: “Ok.”

    Personally, I would find this much harder to deal with. I’ve just made an enthusiastic suggestion to Joe – I used an exclamation mark and everything – and Joe has completely failed to mirror any of that enthusiasm back at me. What does this mean? Is Joe unenthusiastic? Is he paying attention? Should I be asking if he’s ok? Will it annoy him if I do? At least the presence of ellipsis is an acknowledgement by Joe that something is amiss, an invitation of sorts to enquire.

    I think the reason I find the absence of non-verbals so unsettling is that I project upon text chat my understanding of the role non-verbals play in RL. When we’re talking to people, they naturally mirror back some of our body language and we use this to gauge the impact what we’re saying is having on them. It actually takes a quite a conscious effort to withhold giving this listener response, so if we don’t get it as the speaker it can be unnerving; it could mean one of two things: 1) the listener is intentionally withholding it because they have an issue with us or what we’re saying; 2) the listener is not paying attention to us and thinking about other things. For me, when I translate this principle into text chat it’s the presence of punctuation that keys me into the difference between these two things. I infer from punctuation that the responder has put some effort into what they’ve typed and therefore has been paying attention. It’s what I think of as a measured response. As an example, consider the following:

    Becky: “I’d really like to listen to some good blues music and dance my butt off today!”
    Joe: “sure, let’s do that”

    Becky: “I’d really like to listen to some good blues music and dance my butt off today!”
    Joe: “Sure. Let’s do that.”

    In both cases, there is no non-verbal information. In the first case, it might be that Joe just didn’t have time for it because he wanted to punch out a reply as quickly as possible – perhaps because he was juggling IMs or, if the conversation took place in open chat, wanted to get his response out before someone else’s; it’s difficult to say. In the second case, however, Joe didn’t give non-verbal information, but *did* go to the trouble of punctuating with exactitude. We know he took just a little bit more time over his reply and the lack of mirrored enthusiasm starts to feel just a little bit intentional. It would depend upon the context, of course, but if I received this reply from him I might just start thinking to myself, “Did I say something to upset Joe?”

    Of course, Joe might have intended absolutely none of this. Ironically, he might even be going to the trouble of punctuating correctly because he knows about my enjoyment of correctly punctuated sentences and wants to please or impress me. I say this also knowing that I’m very guilty myself of both not including non-verbal information at times and delivering very precisely punctuated sentences. Not always, but often. Perhaps it’s this that’s led to a few people over the years commenting that they found me a little aloof before they got to know me better.

    It’s interesting, though. It even suggests a possible model which could be put to the test. Consider a two-by-two matrix for responses of ‘punctuated v. non-punctuated’ and ‘non-verbal info v. no non-verbal info’. My prediction (based solely on my own feelings, so this could be way off track) would be that ‘punctuated + non-verbal info’ would be the response that most people would prefer or find easiest to respond to (the punctuation in this case indicating attention), with ‘punctuated + no non-verbal info’ the response that most would find most difficult. Of course, an important intervening variable would be the respondent’s own knowledge of punctuation and grammar. I imagine there would also be a debate to be held about what constitutes ‘punctuated’. Your example of “Oh. My. God.” demonstrates punctuation being used very effectively; I think it could be said of text like this that punctuation is being used, but not in a grammatically conventional manner; the end result is essentially just non-verbal information.

    I hope you don’t mind this long response, but your topic became something of a muse for me!

    Oh, and I’m with you on apostrophes and the Oxford comma; and totally with you on the semi-colon. I’m reminded, however, of what my close SL friend and poetry mentor, Persephone Phoenix, used to say about semi-colons. “They’re like park benches,” she told me. “One or two are very nice, but more than that spoil the view.” Super 🙂

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    1. Huck! Thanks for commenting so thoughtfully.

      In case I wasn’t clear, I’m not arguing against the use of non-verbal condiments. In this category I include emoticons (which I love – when I can understand what they mean) and emoting (which I practice with abandon, as you well know). So, we agree there: Text chat would be bland in the absence of these condiments, and I enjoy savouring them every chance I get.

      What drives me bananas (even though I admittedly still catch myself in the annoying habit) is the overuse of ellipsis. I should qualify again: I’m not against the ellipsis being used at any time, it’s the overuse, or misuse, that bothers me, which I appreciate is a matter of opinion.

      Let’s take the example we have both used, which may allow me to give you an even better set of alternative to either “Ok.” or “ok…”, which i think would help communicate what I dislike about these indirect statements. Forgive me too for generalising here, as I find it difficult to not do so given the broad strokes with which we’re discussing this.

      I can see how you might find the indirectness of Joe’s “ok…” helpful, but I suspect that you are more comfortable with it than I am because it is more culturally familiar. I notice that the British have a penchant for being indirect; in many ways, it’s an adaptive trait for a society that has difficultly expressing itself directly (it helps you to avoid conflict until you’re bubbling with fury, so that you can overflow like volcanoes when you get really cross 😉

      I say this with all due respect for the British oxymoronic zealousness for moderation in civi discourse – it’s one of the things that makes you all so charming 🙂 For imports like me, however, who are more accustomed to straight talk, it can often feel like we’re not getting the real deal.

      Interestingly, I see almost no difference between your “sure, let’s do that” and “Sure. Let’s do that.” I even had to read them twice each to ensure there was a difference! I suppose I’m not as sensitive to the lack or presence of sentence capitalisation and full stop punctuation as I thought. It’s those damn ellipsis that make all the difference, because to me they signal the distance between the speaker and me. They signal that there is a tentativeness, a distrust, and even perhaps a hint of intimidation. That bugs me.

      For me, a much more useful response from Joe might be: “Hmm, I don’t like the blues”, or alternatively, “Sounds fun, but I’ll take a rain check.” At worst, he might respond by saying, “With you? Never!”. At best, he might say: “Sure, that sounds fun – let’s go.”

      Wouldn’t you agree, that any of these four options is clear and helpful at communicating one’s true intent than the overly-efficient and slightly cold “Ok.”? Still, I’d take the “Ok.” over the “ok…” any day of the week, because I’d rather hear a strong no that a limp maybe.

      I’m considering your matrix now, and I’m really not sure on what most people would prefer. You are, however, tempting me to create a survey to find out now. I hope you’re happy now… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I don’t think there’s any argument about an expanded response being more useful than ‘ok…’, it’s just that in my experience in SL, the people who volunteer such articulate information are far fewer than the people who do (incidentally, I know more non-Brits than Brits in SL, so I’m not entirely convinced by your cultural stereotype explanation ;p – I think that’s just generally how people are).

        But a part of me thinks that’s fair enough. Taking the conversation from light and casual to something harder and heavier is a tricky business. You have to judge whether someone’s in the mood for that sort of conversation (always extremely difficult in text) and how they might react to it. We don’t know how much of a person’s attention we ever really have in SL and don’t want them to feel hijacked by a paragraph out of the blue on why this proposal is a terrible idea or what elephant in the room it appears to be ignoring, etc. We don’t want to be perceived as ‘too much drama’ or too self-obsessed. In short, we like to be asked, “What is the matter?” We like to be given permission to tell our woes. So a person who uses “Ok…” in SL might just be saying, “I have an issue with that; please ask me about it.”

        But I think your clarification confirms what I feel – that it’s not the ellipsis per se that you have a problem with, rather the people who overuse it. On that, I’m in agreement 🙂

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