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.)



Filed under Words

8 responses to “A Bird Named Ellipsis

  1. Oh dear! Ellie sounds like my kids!

  2. Amanda

    I can see it all as though I was peeking through that window in your office. Your writing is powerful and leaves me…well, hanging on your every word! Did I use that right???

    I often find myself using the dot dot dot in my Facebook posts or when writing an email, asking people to fill in the blanks on their own. I have no idea if that is the correct usage of the punctuation, however it is how I intend it and it sounds like that is how it is meant to be used. How did I learn this? From reading. Books, mostly, from a childhood filled with fairy tales and cliffhangers that left me dangling on every word. I too try to build mystery, as you so eloquently put it, by leaving the most powerful ideas left unsaid for the reader to come up with on their own. Who knows if they actually go where I intend them to go, but I guess that is the risk I take by letting the silence to speak for me when I write.

    Thank you for sharing and educating us yet again with your wit and humor. Truly an enjoyable read.

  3. @ Amanda: Ellipses, as punctuation, have two uses. The first is to indicate that you have omitted some portion of a quoted text. For instance, if you wished to quote only a selected part of Jessica’s ninth paragraph, you might write: “Ellipsis-the-bird is the antithesis of the above-described words. . . . She’s unbearably loud. She’s rude.”
    The periods that form the ellipsis are always separated by exactly one word space between them, and exactly one word space before the first period and after the last period.
    Your eagle eye has already detected that there is no word space before the first period in my example. That’s because that period (following the word “words”) is not part of the ellipsis (an ellipsis always consists of exactly three periods). The period after “words” is there because it’s the end of a sentence in the original document I was quoting from.
    This is the kind of ellipsis that you see in movie ads. The critic writes “The funniest thing about this movie is that it shows complete ignorance of what life is like in the 21st Century,” and they print it as “The funniest . . . movie . . . in the 21st Century.”

    [A brief digression about word spaces. Unless you are typing on a manual typewriter, don’t ever type two consecutive word spaces, anywhere, for any reason. Thank you.]

    The other use of the ellipsis is the kind you see in Jessica’s seventh paragraph. This is meant to capture in writing the effect of a speaker who pauses in mid-thought, or who leaves the end of a sentence unspoken, as in this limerick I composed about a ball game that was almost rained out:
    “I just called the park in Pawtucket
    Where there rain’s coming down by the bucket,
    But they’re totally sure
    It’ll clear up by four.
    If it turns out they’re wrong, well then . . .”

    • Thank you, @publishingmojo, for your foray into the many uses of ellipses. Ellipsis-the-bird also serves many purposes–to frustrate, annoy, interrupt, and fill the air with useless squawks. Oh, and she keeps my reflexes sharp by trying to bite me.

      @Dawn: If your kids try to bite you . . . Well, I don’t know what to tell you. If you like, you can put them in Ellie’s cage and see who comes out!?

      @Amanda: Glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you for letting us know how you incorporate ellipses in your life. After all, punctuation is very personal!

      (And I must soundly agree about the two consecutive spaces. Never. Not after a period. Not after a colon. Ever. Save your editor’s eyes. Just don’t do it. :))

  4. Gotta meet that bird, Jessica–I have a special fondness for em-dashes myself, actually (you may have noticed). Love the way you put the words in this post, and the description of how ellipses work was… (sigh)….

    Thank you!

  5. I know what you mean – I’m way too fond of elipses – my crit group takes almost all of them out! To me, they’re like “um” and “ah” in speech – placeholders to keep you moving!

    • Isn’t our relationship with punctuation fascinating? As you describe, many authors use punctuation in their writing as deliberately as their words. Being on the lookout for overkill is critical, but so is a sensitivity toward a writer’s style. “Placeholders” is a good definition–very personal.

  6. lovelylovelovely….lovely. Thank you for the smiles::)

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