Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Deep Space of Syntax

A seraphim with bad taste in Jazz asks:
Dear Answer Phone: What is the correct written grammatical usage thingy of the ellipses? Is it sans spaces (...) or with spaces (. . .)

And what does this have to do with "elliptical" speech or statements?
And, in your opinion, is it true that you are only close friends with someone if you feel superior to them? Thanks Answer Phone!

An ellipsis is the face of the ineffable in punctuation. As such it should be used with some care. Punctuation is rhetoric and rhetoric is the measure of power. Applying an ellipsis (please note that I am trying to oh so subtly correct your question. Whilst it contains three dots, a punctuation ellipsis is singular. I certainly know the pleasure of unconventional pluralization and am wont to say "process-eez" instead of the far less pretentious "process-ez." I revel in any opportunity to use data in the singular as well. I feel that you share my appreciation of latinate conjugation, which is why I am sending you a cigar box containing shiny stones and feathers.) is a massive theological act. It opens a window to infinity for the reader, one not always that easily shut. Take care with your quiver of ellipses for you may find yourself responsible for raving maniacs who roam the land looking for a lost datum.

An ellipsis is the plank that you make your reader walk, forcing them to stare down at the briny unknown. There is a story about the early days of Intel in which their campus was a couple of mobile buildings on Hillsboro, Oregon farmland. The only thing of value they had was their intellectual property. To this day, they are known for their paranoid secrecy. When giving a tour to an outsider, a hired security gaurd held a board in front of a doorway to prevent prying eyes from seeing what was behind him. That gaurd is an ellipsis. He is fodder for the imagination. Perhaps he protects a Willy Wonka-esque wonderland or perhaps a room of horrors. Probably it was just a wan fellow staring at a computer screen.

Be cautious with your ellipses, jazz man.

Use no spaces between the periods when ellipsing. There is enough deep space vaccum within that mark already.

Ellipses and ellipticality are only related in the way that Captain Crunch and Saved by the Bell are related.

In answer to your last question, no.


  1. Maybe the Intel guard was on his way to a board meeting.

  2. Wait! don't you remember don renyolds galloping across the room yelling "space dot! space dot! space dot!"

    Did I miss something here or did Answer Phone just err to the colloquial?

    very disappointing. but a genuinely great post.

  3. Yeah, Kelvin once emphatically told me he hated the the non-space ellipses. Either I am glad I could give you a worthy canvas upon which to paint with my very first Answer phone question. I feel as though I read my mark thoroughly. Either way, screw jazz and screw hippies. Who needs either?

  4. The Associated Press Style Manual calls for ellipses to be used with no spaces. I infer from that that the AP, like nature, abhors a vacuum.