Journalists declare war...on ellipses

Slate


The job description of the ellipsis has changed, Matthew J.X. Malady writes. His emails, his text messages...full of three-point shots. Clay Shirky hypothesizes to him that "people are trying to use alphabets like we’re talking, and it’s ... hard. So we reach for the ellipsis.”



Awl Editor Choire Sicha tells Malady he's defeated his own overuse of ellipses, retraining himself to "send emails in complete sentences, with proper punctuation, like an adult person."



At The Washington Post, using fewer ellipses is now an institutional imperative, judging by a July 17 memo from Managing Editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz and Multiplatform Editor Jesse Lewis. "We’ve noticed an overuse of the ellipsis recently," they write.

This issue was raised in reference to a quote by President Obama on the George Zimmerman verdict. Our story said:

The White House issued a statement in which Obama characterized Martin’s death as “a tragedy . . . not just for his family . . . but for America.”

According to whitehouse.gov, the statement read:

The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America.

In this instance, the first ellipsis was incorrect. It gives the impression that words were removed, when, in fact, the punctuation should have been a period.

Asked via email whether this policy would affect his creative process, the Post's Gene Weingarten told Poynter, "if they come for my semicolons, I fight."

Garcia-Ruiz and Lewis' memo:

We’ve noticed an overuse of the ellipsis recently. In practice, the ellipsis indicates the omission of text, usually words that are unimportant or irrelevant. An overuse prompts readers to wonder what information we are leaving out. Here’s a reminder on our style:

ellipsis

The ellipsis (...), also known as ellipses, indicates the omission of words or sentences. It is used most often to remove unimportant or irrelevant matter from quotations or text. It may also be used in stylized writing to join unrelated words or sentences. The ellipsis is typeset with spaces before and after it and with thin spaces between the periods to prevent their breaking at the end of a line, but no space is set between a quotation mark and an ellipsis.

a. Use the ellipsis to indicate omissions in quotations or text.

"The first thing . . . is to hire him," Black said.

b. When an ellipsis is used at the end of a sentence, put a period or other terminal punctuation at the end of the sentence. Never use a comma with an ellipsis. "The first thing is to hire him. . . . Then we can deal with him," Black said. "Why don't we hire him first?. . . Then we can deal with him," Black said.

c. It usually is unnecessary to end a quoted sentence or begin a quote with an ellipsis.

See quotations.

d. Do not use an ellipsis in place of a dash, comma or colon to indicate pauses in speech or words in apposition. It could be misinterpreted as indicating omitted material.

This issue was raised in reference to a quote by President Obama on the George Zimmerman verdict. Our story said:

The White House issued a statement in which Obama characterized Martin’s death as “a tragedy . . . not just for his family . . . but for America.”

According to whitehouse.gov, the statement read:

The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America.

In this instance, the first ellipsis was incorrect. It gives the impression that words were removed, when, in fact, the punctuation should have been a period.

Emilio Jesse

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.

Comments

 
Email IconGroup 3Facebook IconLinkedIn IconsearchGroupTwitter IconGroup 2YouTube Icon