Jun 3, 2008

Dot, dot - who's there?

Ever notice how a lot of people (especially Indian neti-jans) seem to use a lot of ellipses in casual text? (passing aside: commentary applies to only those who are textually active).

I mean sentences like these:

umm the colour combo is great. black and green.....
if you fix the terrible things above it will be good....
In fact, it's more than the average three act ellipsis. You see a lot of mutant dot trails, leading to what I call 'comet sentences'. And in cases such as
the width need to be increased....too small....include some letters.....(at the side)
the author is loath to ever decisively finish a sentence, or even let go in the middle of it. Breathlessly, he holds on to both phrases, joining them in dotted lexical forms.

Now, since I deal with text for a living, I can either rail against such punctured notation, or I can try learning to deal with it, even if with clip on nose. Following language literature, we see evidence of several such mutations on a regular basis. Our reading also tells us that many of the language styles and meanings we cling to dogmatically today would have been blasphemes from the past. Elliptical prose is perhaps the same.

What I do wonder of course, is how this started, and why many people have taken to it naturally. What is the linguistic, economic or even evolutionary advantage of doing so, assuming there is no aesthetic reason for doing so?


Salil said...

I often end my blog posts with ellipses (restricting to 3 dots). My reasoning is that firstly I'm bad at ending blog posts and secondly, the ellipses mean that I always have something more to say. The something-more-to-say part also applies to ellipses in IM conversations in a way to say "let me finish, I'm not done yet".

rishabh said...


This might be of some relevance

Sudarshan said...

I've seen people who do this a LOT while chatting - one guy used to have lines full of dots. He used them to indicate that he was thinking over what to say next, or else to indicate long pauses in the sentence. I'm guessing that carries over to emails and blog posts as well.

Another thing is, people generally don't realize that the ellipse is a standard punctuational notation consisting of exactly 3 dots - the feeling is that more dots mean a longer gap/pause, less mean a shorter one.

Harish Kumar said...

(...) (...) (...)

Ramanand said...

Salil, Sudarshan: thanks. The use in IMs makes sense. I can see that not doing it seems to indicate finality. However, seems unnecessary in other writing. So Salil, when you want to end, just end it, ok? :-)

Rishabh: see your post for a comment

Harish: aiiy?

Salil said...

As they say, andaaz apna apna... ;-)

Yash said...

harish seems to be using Morse code here

SameerDS said...

I am one of those people prone to use an ellipsis all the time. But I do use the correct three dots, not just random sequences of dots. I realised I use them to indicate a continuation of thought, that would be easier to express by gestures in a face to face conversation. Here's a sentence that I wrote in an email recently:

(begin quote)
I had asked you what context to use for those questions you posed ... I believe you are considering the philosophical angle ... "what do I want, philosophically ... what does this life mean to me"
(end quote)

Notice that each of those elipses can be replaced with "and" or "for example" or the long dash (--- in LaTeX) or something like that. And on hindsight, it seems each was used as a subsitute for the gestures I would have used face-to-face.

When chatting, the ellipsis just works as an equivalent of using "OVER!" when using a push-to-talk protocol.

Note: It was very disturbing to not use any ellipsis while writing this comment ... felt like something was left unexpressed! :D

Nikhil said...

as a famous saying goes, "more dots, more pleasure" .....

hope you're pleased.

Millie Dutt said...

This post made me smile from ear to ear! The ... mystery has both confused and amused me for years!

I do think such use of excessive dots should be banned. It forces usually very sensible and well-educated people to omit all rules of normal punctuation and logical thought. I can only assume that, where others online would be contemplating what to write next, those of (particularly) South Asian origin are holding down our beloved dot key on the keyboard. Never mind the fact that it would actually usually take longer to send a text message with so many dots in sequence! I can only assume that it's a regional fad as I have not noticed others so fond of this habit.

Having just knocked the habit, many of my favourite Indian people continue to use dots in place of silence and I wouldn't want them to change. But just a word of note - males who send SMS messages with them come across as quite distasteful and creepy!

Sometimes silence of thought is alright and comfortable, and does not need to be translated into writing all the time. With expressions such as *lol* and *pauses*, there is effective netiquette to convey non-verbal expression for those who need to.

Lekhni said...

I have often wondered too at the profusion of dots in some blog posts. Quite often they seem to serve no purpose apart from connecting(?) disjointed phrases into one sentence.

I have also found there is a strong correlation between the probability of grammatical mistakes and occurrence of 3-4 ellipses in the post ;)

Rupali said...

I think I can live with the ellipses, what irritates me more is the wrong usage of the apostrophe symbol (as in, "The DVD's were a great buy", or "My parent's trip to Mumbai..."). I've seen some very good writers do that. What do you say?
(I'd say don't use the apostrophe if you don't know its right location. (it's vs its... another pet peeve))

Ramanand said...

SameerDS: interesting. I think that's why sometimes I prefer email over chat - easier to string thoughts without having to be worried about interruptions or making hand signals by proxy.

Nikhil: your slogan could be "tear along the dotted line"

Millie, Lekhni: thanks for your comments. I guess people don't realise they also have the option to pause, think, and then fire.

Rupali: now we get into Lynne Truss territory. I wonder if you have visited the Apostrophe Protection Society [http://www.apostrophe.fsnet.co.uk/ ] :-)

snehal said...

Not in blogs but i've come across these dots in mails quite often ..
" How r u ...." (anything else you wanted to ask plz?)
" ...yeah visited blah the other day ...." (not very pleased with the visit?? )
it always gives a feeling that we are supposed to read betwen lines (or read futher to the dots :) )
Good post.
Just Curious -
" Now, since I deal with text for a living " ? how is that?

Anonymous said...

It is because we Indians don't have the kaanfidence to say things too decisively - we feel it will offend the listener. I find spoken equivalents of the ellipsis in our regional languages. I speak Tamizh, and the way we end questions or responses (especially when we speak to "elders") with a drawl-y, somewhat self-deprecatory sound (rather than a more declarative or inquiring sound that would logically end the sentence/question) - that is what I'm reminded of when I see us over-using ellipses when writing in English.

Ramanand said...

Snehal: that's because I work in an area called text analytics that tries to analyse text using computer science.

Anon: that's quite an interesting observation.