30 January 2011

Conversational Ellipsis

I'm growing tired of improper starts and stops. Why is it whenever I'm watching an interview on the television that the person being interviewed doesn't know how to stop when done with a thought? Why is it that it takes a bit to warm up and get going? It all falls on the word ellipsis.

Ellipsis (plural ellipses; from the Ancient Greek: λλειψις, élleipsis, "omission") is a mark or series of marks that usually indicate an intentional omission of a word in the original text. An ellipsis can also be used to indicate a pause in speech, an unfinished thought, or, at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence (aposiopesis) (apostrophe and ellipsis mixed). When placed at the end of a sentence, the ellipsis can also inspire a feeling of melancholy longing. The ellipsis calls for a slight pause in speech.

The most common form of an ellipsis is a row of three periods or full stops (...) or pre-composed triple-dot glyph (…). The usage of the em dash (—) can overlap the usage of the ellipsis.

The triple-dot punctuation mark is also called a suspension point, points of ellipsis, periods of ellipsis, or colloquially, dot-dot-dot.

Here's what I mean. I just heard it on CNN or MSNBC or something I flipped past. The question had to do with the Egyptian political troubles. When a person is interviewed, on almost any subject, of late, they think it's proper to begin the answer with "Well, you know, that's a good question" or the like. To me, that's simply an ellipsis for them to get their wheels of communication intention started. It's as if we could hear, "...I think the trouble in Egypt is related to..." 

My mother used to enter conversations with "Anyway" and then go on to subjects of more concern to her. It was as if we never ended the last conversation, followed by an ellipsis and then her next thought. "...anyway, how are the kids?" 

In Australia I hear the inability to finish a sentence by the tailing "so." (This is not to be confused with the finishing of the thought. That is more clearly seen and heard.) A person in conversation says, "Yeah, they came over to the house, you know, so." and tail off into silence.  And I always want to ask, "So what?" But I don't, because I'm polite. Or others would say, "I don't, because I'm polite, so" The ellipsis shows up there! I'm polite, ...

I want to know the end of the conversation. I (more than I should) move to the end of the conversation. 

The New York expression, which became standard the last few years here in Australia, beginning a sentence with "So" as in "So you think you can dance?" sounds more yiddish. Even so, in my view it's an ellipsis. "...you think you can dance?" See what I mean? These little dots are everywhere!

Please, if you are interviewed, think your thoughts first, then speak. Start with an answer, not with 'well' and not with 'you know' and not with 'um...' OK?

And when you are interviewed, Mr Sports Star or Ms Hollywood(, or anyone), please when you are finished with a thought, END. Be comfortable with silence. There is no need to carry on with "um"s and "so"s. Please let an ellipsis stay where it really belongs.

The ellipsis belongs in the dictionary. 

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