Your Copy Sucks: In Offense of Ellipses

AbstractTo the chief bottle washer, Cog:

Today, we’re staging a little intervention. Cog, we’re not doing this to punish you; we’re doing this because you’re our friend and we want what’s best for you. It’s getting to the point where you can’t handle it anymore. You’ll destroy yourself if you keep using at this rate!

I speak, of course, of your rampant abuse of ellipses.

I am completely biased, but I think they’re the most wimpy punctuation mark available. Lots of people use them (or, in my view, overuse them) because they lend a sort of pause in a sentence, and we naturally pause when speaking to breathe or think. Except I believe that our writing should be better and more compelling than our speech. We have the time to set it in stone (or word processor, as the case may be); we should strive for perfection.

So let’s talk about dot. Dot. Dot.

I give you exhibit A, from a very recent PRBC blog post!

Ok, so to address this first…maybe there is something to the whole women’s intuition thing…

THIS is how you choose to spring your theories on us, sir? With pauses that are not unlike the rasping death-rattle of the elderly? What can those two sets of ellipses possibly add to the style, wit, clarity, and visual stimulus of your writing? Nothing. Those three dots (which should technically include nonbreaking spaces, I might add) are just dead weights, dragging your sentence to a slow crawl.

Suggested edits:

Okay, so to address this first: maybe there is something to the whole women’s intuition thing.

First of all, maybe there is something to the whole women’s intuition thing.

Maybe there is something to the whole women’s intuition thing!

See? See how that sounds now?

Cog, it’s not even the internal copy that’s troubling me. It’s the titles. They all have ellipses. One after another after another. I know for a fact that you do not speak like this in real life. If you always trailed off at the end of your sentences while staring off into the distance (as the ellipses imply) you would be promptly smacked upside the head.

I know you’re trying, Cog, and your attempts at using more varied punctuation from your linguistic quiver are admirable! Your em dashes and occasional semicolon do wonders to break up your sentences in more interesting ways. But then you fall off the wagon—and start ellipsing it up again. It’s clear to me that there’s little hope you’ll ever change.

Guys, you don’t have to be like Cog! You may be an ellipses addict and not even know it. The first step to recovery is admitting you have an ellipses problem. For all of you liberally sprinkling dot-dot-dots into your business e-mails, your pitches, your tweets, your Facebook status updates, your text messages, and your grocery lists, stop the madness! Do it for the children. Do it for the people who never stopped using. Do it for . . . yourself.


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  • TJ…I had no idea…my ellipses bothered you so much….

    Ok, that's not exactly true…I've been waiting to see how long it would take for you to tear me a new dot dot dot…

  • My name is Michael and I am an Ellipses addict… They just work…

    P.S. My wife is a copy editor and she hates me for using them. Call me crazy, but I find the ellipses better from a dramatic standpoint the dreaded colon.

    P.P.S or P.S.S (I never know which one) I'd bet the chances are better that Cog would use an ellipses in his natural voice than he would a colon… just sayin'

  • I likely would if I didn't fear the heavy-handed brain duster surely delivered by the PRBC family nearest to me at the time.

    Oh shoot, wait… there we go. Had to throw one in there.

  • Hahaha, TJ I honestly giggled out loud this morning all by my lonesome in the office. I never realized that Cog used ellipses in his titles! Probably because I too… am an ellipses addict.

    Oh well :).

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  • tee he he…

  • I used to hate ellipses overusers… then I became a screenwriter. Its all we do… we pause… we leave you hanging…


  • Michael, thank you for admitting you have a problem. But then you ruin it by being totally and completely wrong.

    There is nothing dramatic about ellipses. They've become so ubiquitous and overwrought that their dramatic power is about equal to that of a dead fish. They are floppy and ineffectual.

  • jeffespo

    TJ, Great post… However… I wonder if you love copy too much to let anything slip by anyone without intervention.

    Now is there some kind of kitty that you guys have for excessive use of said punctuation marks?

  • If things went my way, we'd have the punctuation equivalent of a swear jar. $1 to charity or bar tabs for every … that is not part of ironic all-caps internetz speak.

  • heatherwhaling

    Ha! This is awesome. I am a relatively new ellipses addict. I never used to use them and then I worked for a boss who *loved* them … and now I use them constantly. That and em dashes. TJ, you've inspired me: I pledge to reduce my addition to the dots. 🙂

  • I am guilty of it too…

  • Listen, you've hit rock bottom. We're sending you to a clinic. It's for the best.

  • No…we've had worse welcomes…I think.

  • There's a clinic? Is the therapist ee cummings?

  • jeffespo

    I would set up a paypal fund where you can politely say AHEM and send the link w/ each violation. I am sure if there was a charity involved some might actually pony up said $1

  • If I only turn one person away from the path of awful punctuation, then all of today's dot gags will have been worth it.

  • You can quit! You have the power!

  • doreenoverstreet

    I'm so guilty of this. I think it's because we PR peeps don't like to outwardly offend anyone … so ellipses downplay opinions. And em dashes (– ) … love and abuse those too (like @PRtini).

    Guilty and yours,

  • etherb0x

    Personally, I'm a fan of nothing so much as the horrible two-dot ellipsis that I picked up from my mIRC days.

    Yeah.. nothing says clear, determined thought like an improper ellipsis.. I think.

    Good article, Teej!

  • etherb0x

    Also, TJ – have you done a comment on overuse of the emdash/hyphen? Because that's another grammar point I abuse to the point of legal action.

  • No, because I really, really like em dashes and hyphens. I mean, when used properly.

  • So true! Ellipses are wishy-washy little milquetoasts!

  • LAprGuy

    I'm with you in spirit — and definitely in the more “professional” (and by that I mean printed in ink forever) setting — but I find myself using ellipses similar to how Jeanne does (I think): As a way to insert a sort of personal “voice” into written e-mails and other postings, as in, Hey, I'm just typing this as I think of it.

    I also think it does help readability sometimes, when not overused.

    And now I must go work …

  • See, lots of people tend to think that using ellipses makes the message more readable, but what it actually does is slow the eye down. And not in a good “pause and collect yourself” way. In a “forget what the two separated fragments have to do with each other” sort of way.

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  • So I am not sure if we should agree to disagree or fight this out…

    I tend to agree with you if I am writing copy for our company, but the
    ellipses has become a part of how I express myself when writing my own

    Is it a dead fish? Maybe, but I know if I ever copyedited the ellipses out
    and put the colon in I'd be going against my own grain and to some extent
    sacrificing my voice.

    If you worry abou the floppy and ineffectual, I am way more concerned with
    bad writing than bad grammar. If the content is good, the author should get
    away with a few bad habits, especially those that help put a fingerprint on
    the text. If taking away the ellipses has a chance of containing Cogs (or
    anyone's) voice, I vote to keep them in.

  • What he said…

  • You're both charmingly incorrect. You're confusing individuality with something that has become so obscenely overused that it can no longer offer any insight into a person's real voice. If one wanted to set apart their personal writing, adding superfluous marks is not the way to do it.

  • You're both charmingly incorrect. You're confusing individuality with something that has become so obscenely overused that it can no longer offer any insight into a person's real voice. If one wanted to set apart their personal writing, adding superfluous marks is not the way to do it.

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