Monthly Archives: June 2011

A Bird Named Ellipsis

“What’s that beautiful sound? Are there birds outside your office window?” my client asked dreamily as we prepared to hang up the phone.

“Oh that . . .” I stuttered. “That’s Ellipsis, my bird,” I said, flailing around trying to push my office door closed with my toe since I couldn’t reach it without dropping the phone.

“She sounds lovely,” my client replied.

I immediately saw the picture she envisaged. I imagined she saw me sitting at my computer, rays of sun dancing through the window and falling across my fingers as they tap the keys on my keyboard, “Ellie” sitting contentedly on my shoulder singing her sweet bird song, accompanying me as I edit a manuscript.

HA! Nothing could be further from the truth. Remove that vision from your memory—or at least insert someone else at my desk. I have never once had this experience with Ellipsis. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ellipsis was a gift from my sister. I commented once after I birdsat for her that her bird’s singing was beautiful and mysterious and welcome in the morning. Voila! Bird appears for my birthday. And being the literary/word/punctuation lover that I am, I cleverly name her Ellipsis. Adore the word. Always have. Say it. E-Lip-Sisssssss. Fun word, isn’t it? Rolls off your tongue, its silky syllables hinting at its meaning. (If you don’t know—and there’s no shame in it–an ellipsis is, simply, the dot dot dot at the end of a sentence. Webster’s has an *ahem* formal definition, however.)

The ellipsis is powerful punctuation, seductive in its silent strength. Though it stands in for missing words, those dots leave the reader dangling as they suggest there’s more beneath the sentence’s meaning. It’s subtle and soft and . . . Something else?

Ellipses fill a void even as they create them. I particularly like ellipses in dialogue. Suggestive of faltering speech. Hinting at uncertainty. Or mystery. Something magical beyond traditional description in that moment. Its strength lies in its silence.

Ellipsis-the-bird is the antithesis of the above-described words. Her name is a big, fat, gigantic lie. A misnomer. The worst case of NOT calling it like it is that I’ve ever been a part of (here I go with my rampant abuse of hyperbole.  Ah, hyperbole . . . That’s for another day.). Ellie is not quiet. She is not subtle. There is nothing soft about her as she lunges at my fingers when I reach into her cage to feed her. There’s nothing mysterious about Ellipsis-the-bird when she cranes her neck to peck the bars that separate my eyes from her beak. Simply put: She hates me. She’s unbearably loud. She’s rude. She throws her food on the floor–on purpose, I’m convinced. When I run water, she squawks. When I vacuum, she shrieks. When I chat on the phone, or in person, at my dining room table she fills the room with a disruptive cacophony that even a mother would despise.

Ellie interrupts. She cuts you off when you’re talking. She—hey, I should have named her “Em-dash”! (Think about it . . . Comments always welcome.)

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