02 December 2012

The three dots’ burden: ellipses and meaning

The joke:
"To make a long story short," said the senator, " . . ."

The news report:
The prime minister spoke of "remarkable results", but later in the speech acknowledged criticism, saying "But the job we have set ourselves...is not yet complete."

And now, consider the the plight of Ephemera Hunt, when upon bended (replaced) knee, 89-year-old Dempster Kneeduluck III proposed, his infatuation with Ephemera's skills as a game creator having won both his heart and his hope that with his billions, she might not only consider writing him into her next adventure, but teach him how to hear anything on his iphone.
"Marry . . . Us?" she said, choking on her drink. "That's so cool! Nobody'll believe . . . actually, you know, no thanks." For of course, no matter how attractive the offer, she really couldn't consider a man so old, he still used email. She couldn’t look Kneeduluck in the eye, so she gazed instead, into the black depths of the olive in her cocktail.
“You won’t get sympathy from me,” the olive shot back. “Remember the last time you tried crowdsourcing to fund your little games?” Ephemera couldn’t argue, and Kneeduluck wasn’t used to taking ‘no’ for an answer, so . . .
Above are examples of how ellipses can look in fiction, and (let's be generous when it comes to politicians' speeches) non-fiction. See the broad expanse in fiction? And the little dots all huddled together in the harsh world of reality, where three dots must work for cuts?

The problem with ellipses is that they serve more than one function, and those functions are diametrically opposed, so a confusion has naturally come to be as to how they should be formatted internally, and placed in relation to other text.

I've named the different types, but these names are only written in figurative pencil because I wouldn't dare to presume. They should of course, already have names, but I’ve never found them. And if their names are old and human-like, these names are the equivalent of Smith and Cooper, for the different jobs ellipses need to do should determine their names and be crucial in decisions made as to the visual representations of ellipses at work.

At present, the reason ellipses look different depending upon the setting is just a matter of which agony uncle or aunt in Chicago or Oxford or some ethereal but militaristic place is followed for everything an ellipse has to do, regardless.

If however, the different uses were given graphic freedom to serve, they could enhance the text, as any good punctuation does. The different ellipses should be treated as distinguished beings on the page—as distinguished as a full stop and comma, an exclamation mark and a question mark; even for that thingie: those two dots, one upon the other as differentiated from the dot above the comma.

The non-fiction ellipsis shows that there has been a cut made and fat excised, so these little dots are the bandage bridging the missing flab. There is no need for the bandage to be large, and indeed, it's a nuisance, so a cramped little...will do nicely, and even that grotesquery from Microsoft works fine.
Another, who is annoyed that his girlfriend earns more than he does, complains, "All the things we need to be good at to thrive in the world...are things that my female friends and competitors are better at than me."
The Economist, quoting from Hanna Rosin's The End of Men: And the Rise of Women
The extended time ellipsis (probable name: Extenson) has two branches: the dialogue ellipsis and the continuation of activity ellipsis. Both spend their time doing what soldiers do in war, without having to do the hard part. They sit around.

  • The dialogue ellipsis sits in for a pause in speech.
  • The continuation of activity ellipsis sits in for a dialogue or statement that continues without us suffering the tedium of reading it. 
The visual symbols for both of these Extensons should be, I think, like the liquid lunch. Well spaced. And that really should include, in the case of an ellipsis coming at the end of a sentence, a space before it just as there is on both sides, within a sentence. If we think of an ellipsis being 'a word' as Robert Bringhurst says it is (a concept that I agree with), then of course there would be a space before the ellipsis at the end of a sentence, with a quote mark or a question mark added with no extra space, just as there isn't any space between the last letter of this sentence and its final punctuation solution.

So then we come to the spacing of the dots within the ellipsis. If they are to look like what they are doing instead of faking it, those layarounds, the Extensons, should be well splayed out. Having their dots set a whole space apart might be too great these days (a stinginess I decry, but then that might be pure old-fashionedness, just as I prefer every syllable of 'constitution' pronounced, yet the Washington elite doesn't have time for that, only stopping for 'cons'tushn'). However, setting the dots a half-space is a choice that many good typesetters have employed to excellent effect.

At the moment, the only diacritic available in many fonts is what I would call The Nonfiction cramped little thing, in which the dots are even closer together than if they were put in as three dots without spaces.

Finally, why stop there? Let's extend meaning, as we once felt free to with text, and are doing now with texting.

"To make a long story short," said the senator, ". . . ∞"
And if Americans knew that in other English-speaking countries, a 'period' is a 'full stop', they might laugh too, at the message that hasn't made the news, in these posters.

Maybe some did laugh.
In the last weeks of the campaign, . evolved to !

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