Karen’s Conundrum – The Illusively Elusive Ellipsis

“One fine winter’s day when Piglet was brushing away the snow in front of his house, he happened to look up, and there was Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh was walking round and round in a circle, thinking of something else, and when Piglet called to him, he just went on walking.

‘Hallo!’ said Piglet, ‘what are you doing?’

‘Hunting,’ said Pooh.

‘Hunting what?’

‘Tracking something,’ said Winnie-the-Pooh very mysteriously.

‘Tracking what?’ said Piglet, coming closer.

‘That’s just what I ask myself. I ask myself, What?’        

‘What do you think you’ll answer?’

‘I shall have to wait until I catch up with it,’ said Winnie-the-Pooh.”

~A.A. Milne – Winnie-the-Pooh

As I was walking round and round in a circle in my office, thinking about which of the many conundrums that fill my head I was going to share with you in this post, it struck me that there was no time like the present to address the proper usage and appearance of the almighty ellipsis.

“I knew when I met you an adventure was going to happen.”

~A.A. Milne – Winnie-the-Pooh

So I’d like to share with you the high points of my journey to and through the land of the ellipsis. And oh, what a journey it was. I traveled on Information Highway for miles and miles; navigated detours down side roads; stopped at a few roadside stands to admire their wares—all in search of the Answer, all in search of what I quickly realized was …

The Illusively Elusive Ellipsis.KarenConSM

I decided to start my journey with getting theprecise definition of ellipsis. This seemed like a logical place to start to my trip, akin to checking the air in your tires and assessing your vehicle’s fluids before hitting the road. Well, “oh bother!” I should have known right then that this journey was going to be a bumpy one.

  • According to Merriam-Webster (and others), ellipsis is: 1a: the omission of one or more words that are obviously understood but that must be supplied to make a construction grammatically complete; b: a sudden leap from one topic to another; 2: marks or a mark (as … ) indicating an omission (as of words) or a pause.
  • The plural of ellipsis is ellipses, but the points themselves (the dots/periods) that make up the ellipsis are called ellipsis points or ellipsis marks.

Upon reading the definitions of ellipsis, I paused when I got to “a sudden leap from one topic to another” because that was news to me. You know that uneasy, queasy feeling that you get deep in your gut when you know that you’re about to regret doing something? Well, yeah, let’s just say I should have listened to my gut … but no, I had to keep digging. Just had to. Couldn’t let well enough alone. Now I had to dig deeper. I had to see if there was any correlation between ellipsis and elliptical.

  • Elliptical – 1: of, relating to, or shaped like an ellipse; 2a: of, relating to, or marked by ellipsis or an ellipsis; b(1): of, relating to, or marked by extreme economy of speech or writing, (2): of or relating to deliberate obscurity (as of literary or conversational style), such as a writer with an elliptical style.

At this point my brain started to feel like another definition of elliptical, that being: shaped like a flattened circle. Really? Why can’t things just be simple, straightforward? Why, oh ellipsis, must you be so illusively elusive?

“I’m not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.”

~A.A. Milne – Winnie-the-Pooh

And yet, now, with every instinct screaming “step away from the ellipsis,” just like the doomed character in a horror movie who hears a noise upstairs and instead of running out of the house, s/he creeps nervously up the stairs to find out what made the noise, I popped a couple of aspirin and forged deeper into the world of the ellipsis.

I must admit that I found my brief side trip into the art of elliptical writing to be very interesting and I learned that no one should be afraid of Virginia Woolf, especially her elliptical style of writing. (Were those groans I just heard?)

Fine. I’ll flip past my editor’s log entries about other detours I took and I’ll cut to the chase. The main goal of this excursion was to identify which format for the ellipsis is accepted by most authoritative bodies, and then stick with it.

  • Chicago Manual of Style recommended three ellipsis points
    without any spaces separating them (…)
  • APA Publication Manual recommended three ellipsis points
    with spaces separating them (. . .)

(Of course they didn’t agree—why would they? That would be way too easy.)

What they did agree on is a nonbreaking space must precede the ellipsis. After more investigating, I learned that it is the general consensus in the editing world that an ellipsis without spaces (the CMoS way) is the best way to go; that formatted in that fashion, it’s an easy item for editors to later replace with whatever the house’s style is.

Great! I could see the lighted neon arrow pointing to my final destination flickering in the night on the horizon, down the road a piece, o’er yonder. Just one more thing to verify. And that was to make sure that Microsoft Word had the correct ellipsis format in its AutoCorrect feature.

POW! Son of a … flat tire.

Good news was: I had a spare tire and Microsoft Word did have the ellipsis in AutoCorrect. Bad news was: I didn’t have a jack and the format of the ellipsis in MW AutoCorrect was incorrect.

Ugh! I just wanted this journey over! (And now you do too.) But okay … deep breath. I rolled up my sleeves and broke out the spare tire. I had a little work to do, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I brought the spare tire around to the side of the car and prepared to—oh, heck, no, who am I kidding? I called AAA, and while I waited, I prepared the following easy steps for you to take to fix the ellipsis in your AutoCorrect so that when you are writing your next best seller, all you need to do is type your customary three periods and then – BAM!—AutoCorrect will convert it to the correct format (nonbreaking space, three periods, nonbreaking space).

The following is based on Microsoft Word 2010, but all versions should be very similar.

Under FILE tab, go to OPTIONS.

Then go to PROOFING.

In this window, go to the first gray/grey box, click on “AutoCorrect Options.”

In the bottom half of this next window you will see preset symbols and words. In that area click on the ellipsis ( … ). For me it was the fourth item down and did not require any scrolling to find.

Now go to the small single-line box directly above this that has a column titled “Replace:” To the right is a column titled “With:”.

Click in the window under “With:”

Backspace over (clear out) the ellipsis that was preset.

Now type:  <CTRL><SHIFT>space(then three periods)<CTRL><SHIFT>space

Select “Add.

A prompt will appear asking if you’re sure you want to redefine or replace.

Of course you are. “Yes.”

You’re done. You can close out of this screen and get writing.

And there you have it. Everything you never wanted to know about the ellipsis. Use the ellipsis as you will. Use ellipses as you will. Use the elliptical style as you will. I urge you to take a moment and adjust your Word settings so that this elusive piece of punctuation loses its illusory characteristic and becomes an illustrious tool in your bag of writers’ tricks.

“Think it over, think it under.

 ~A.A. Milne – Winnie-the-Pooh