Generational punctuation differences again

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Forwarded from a young person, who got it from an acquaintance:

just got an email that said "Address is correct…" like are you sad? are you upset? why the fuck are those extra periods there?

dear people over 25, stop using ellipses for no reason like please what are you doing

It occurs to me that the quoted reaction ("why are those extra periods there?" "like please what are you doing") has something in common with the reaction of non-uptalkers to uptalk.

Some earlier posts on related topics:

"The new semiotics of punctuation", 11/7/2012;
"Aggressive periods and the popularity of linguistics", 11/26/2013.

 

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55 Comments »

  1. Joe said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 8:07 am

    I like the equation of ellipsis with melancholy. A friend uses it in emails extensively, typically as a prompt for further conversation. To intensify the need for more discussion, for example, he uses more than the requisite 3 periods. I wonder if more periods is used to indicate more profound sadness?

  2. Mike said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 8:37 am

    Age 36 here. I used to use ellipses a lot in handwritten letters as well as email, because to me it felt less abrupt than ending with a single period. I stopped doing so when I realized it was ambiguous and open to all sorts of unpredictable interpretations (what exactly is the unstated continuation after the "…"?). I wonder if its meaning is better defined among younger people.

  3. Eric P Smith said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 9:28 am

    Age 65 here. Yes, I am sad. I am sad that the said young person considers it wrong to use an ellipsis and right to say fuck.

  4. Mara K said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 11:13 am

    Age 22 here. I don't necessarily read ellipses as sad. To me they're more like a sentence-final softening particle, like 吧 in Chinese. A period is imperative, an ellipsis is a suggestion. More than three dots sounds uncertain, but sometimes it uses the implication of uncertainty to prompt the addressee to fill in a blank.

  5. Neil Dolinger said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 11:26 am

    Exactly two data points here. I asked my 20 year old daughter whether ellipses in texts suggest sadness to her. She sad they don't imply sadness to her, but confusion or agitation. As an example, she said that if she was mad or frustrated with someone, she might text them, "seriously…" before the rest of the message.

    She had previously questioned my (50 year old male AmE speaker) use of ellipses in my texts. When I use them, I am suggesting that there is an additional thought or idea, which I may or may not add in the next message. It does NOT however have any emotional content. My daughter thinks there still may be somewhat of a semantic connection between her usage and mine.

  6. David B said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 11:49 am

    Age 43. I use ellipses quite a bit in texts, emails, Facebook posts, and the like (and, very occasionally, in more official things like syllabi). They seem to have two main uses for me (well, aside from the standard use of skipped text in quotations, that is): A "soft" ending to a statement, as Mara K mentions above; and letting the reader know that there could be more to say—maybe even inviting further discussion if they think it's warranted—but ending the statement where I'm ending it anyway. (As I write this, it seems to me that these are often related…)

    But melancholy? I totally don't get ellipses as sad. Where's that from?

  7. Rube said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 11:57 am

    While the young person's reaction seems over-wrought, possibly for comic effect, I think I would be puzzled by an e-mail that said simply "Address is correct…"

    What's the ellipsis for? The address is correct, but the phone number isn't? The address is correct, so why haven't you sent me my damn cheque? I don't see sadness, but I also don't see the need for an ellipsis.

  8. Keith M Ellis said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

    I'm skeptical there's a generational component to this. I suspect that the youngster just generalized on the basis of the older email correspondent, given that younger folk rarely email in the first place.

    Seems to me the ellipsis-for-periods habit in many people's email has been discussed on LL. I've certainly seen it in the email of some people I've known (mostly family) but I've never understood it.

    Maybe the generational aspect involves how younger people who text generally avoid periods?

  9. Trip Volpe said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

    Age 29 here. The ellipsis definitely creates a more dramatic interpretation of the simple statement "address is correct." Without more context it's hard to say exactly what it means. Sadness or melancholy is one possible interpretation, but it doesn't seem all that likely to me here.

    Sometimes, when "…" is appended to an otherwise matter-of-fact statement in an ongoing exchange, it is done to express frustration or impatience — implying that there is something being left unsaid that the recipient of the message really ought to know already or should have supplied themselves. It's a little passive-aggressive, in other words.

  10. Jeff Carney said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

    I don't see myself acquiring this one. I do however use the non-question question mark to indicate doubt/confusion/etc. It fills the same gap that intentional uptalking does. Very useful.

  11. EricF said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

    I (~60 yo male midwestern AmE speaker) went back and searched my last 2000 or so e-mails for my use of ellipsis and found that it is invariably as described by Neil above: "When I use them, I am suggesting that there is an additional thought or idea, which I may or may not add in the next message." I likewise attribute no emotional content to ellipsis, it's simply shorthand for "to be continued…"

  12. Meghan said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

    This is *so* my 62-year-old mother! She uses the three periods in most emails:

    Went out to lunch…Talked to Mrs. Smith…Her daughter is moving to California…She's sad…

    I've noticed when we chat on Facebook she prefers to type long paragraphs and uses the ellipsis in the places where I would hit the spacebar. So different approaches to a similar discourse strategy? A friend whose mother is the same age and from the same area (Central Connecticut) has observed the same thing.

  13. Meghan said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

    This is *so* my 62-year-old mother! She uses the three periods in most emails:

    Went out to lunch…Talked to Mrs. Smith…Her daughter is moving to California…She's sad…

    I've noticed when we chat on Facebook she prefers to type long paragraphs and uses the ellipsis in the places where I would hit the spacebar. So different approaches to a similar discourse strategy? A friend whose mother is the same age and from the same area (Central Connecticut) has observed the same thing.

  14. Darkwhite said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 2:16 pm

    What is 'Adress is correct…' supposed to mean – in particular, how is it different from 'Adress is correct.' ? I guess what's going on is that the ellipsis doesn't seem to match any plausible interpretation (something omitted; sarcasm; more will follow; etc), not that negative emotion is the only possible meaning of an ellipsis.

  15. Mara K said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 2:21 pm

    Jeff: I love that there is now a punctuation usage that represents uptalk.

  16. Thrica said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

    Yes, passive-aggressive is how the ellipsis comes across to me. Interestingly enough, I've noticed "please" comes across the same way. I'll ask my wife to do something and she'll chide me for not saying please. My response – "but it sounds impatient with the please!"

  17. Terry Collmann said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 2:35 pm

    Eric P Smith I'm 62, and sad that someone could get to 65 and not be aware that sometimes "fuck" is le mot fucking juste.

  18. KevinM said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

    At least in the comics, … is a traditional stand-in, if not for melancholy, then for nonspecific emotional poignancy or ineffability.
    For example: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Film/Pix/pictures/2013/3/4/1362406527737/Roy-Lichtenstein-010.jpg

  19. Ray Girvan said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

    I'm 58, and I chiefly use it in print to express exasperation, "OMG, how stupid", "this is leading to a train wreck", and similar.

    Lucy isn't bringing her children, because she thinks they might catch Fred's cancer…

    George said he's bringing some of hs "groundbreaking ideas" to the meeting tomorrow…

  20. Andrew Bay said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

    To me, "…" represents that there is more to be said, but I don't wish to write them. Such as "I enjoy being outside and it is nice out today…" The untyped missing bit is "but I'm stuck inside for some unshared or previously alluded to reason."
    It may have earned an emotion of "sad" from frequent omission of sad reasons that were left unstated.

    IMarv

  21. Ray Dillinger said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 3:34 pm

    King James English from childhood, educated using Western US English in the 70s/80s, currently 20 yr exposure to West-Coast English.

    I use a four-dot ellipsis when writing dialog to show that a character's utterance was interrupted and left unfinished.

    I use a three-dot or four-dot ellipsis when quoting someone to indicate that some text has been cut for brevity. The four-dot version is used only if the chunk that was cut contained a sentence ending.

    I would never use an ellipsis otherwise except maybe to indicate that things are open to interpretation and might be understood differently by different readers – but that is such a rare usage that I don't think I've done it yet this year, and it's August already.

  22. cameron said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 3:36 pm

    I often use the ellipsis is email and text messages, but I follow MLS usage guidelines and place spaces before and betwixt the dots.

    Oh well . . .

  23. Mark F. said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 3:41 pm

    Sometimes I'll use them for something that might mistakenly be taken literally but is meant to be a bit of a joke. I think in that case it stands in for the pause waiting for the listener's reaction.

  24. Mark Hughes said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

    I read the ellipses as a pause, an unstated request for more explanation. Here I'd read it as "I already told you the address, why are you asking again?"

    More importantly:

    Dear Millennials, capitalize and punctuate your sentences. Or is the shift key too much effort for you?

    I read that kind of writing as lazy and unintelligent, they're mumbling because they don't know the answer and can't be bothered to learn. I first started seeing it on BBS's back in the '80s, USENET in the '90s, so it's not purely generational, but some kind of online disorder.

  25. maidhc said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 4:41 pm

    Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle had a style based on ellipses:

    http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/These-foolish-things-1970-5645452.php

    I don't know how widely this was used by columnists of a similar nature.

  26. Rebecca said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 5:37 pm

    I've seen the usage Meghan notes above and thought it was idiosyncratic – my interpretation was that the person had no clue how to do punctuation, so chose something obviously purposefully wrong. Thinking back, that seems both unlikely and uncharitable. Whatever, as a 59 year old myself, I don't think it's generational.

    Personally, I rarely use ellipses dots, but when I do, it's definitely to signal that I'm purposely leaving something unsaid, usually with some mild attempt at humor. Example: a professional singer friend noted on Facebook that his practice routine involved a particular nightshirt, a glass of red wine and some Thin Mints(the Girl Scout cookie).

    My response: "I hope the wine and thin mint combination is chosen for its vocal benefits, because, as cuisine, well, …"

    If I was translating that for my younger students, I think I'd substitute "well,…" for "dude"

  27. jon livesey said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 5:38 pm

    And then there is Celine…

  28. Eric P Smith said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 5:59 pm

    @Terry Collmann: I knew someone would take me up on this. I am well aware that the word “fuck” is sometimes regarded as le mot juste by some people. But not by all people. Oxford Dictionaries says, "Despite the wideness and proliferation of its use in many sections of society, the word fuck remains (and has been for centuries) one of the most taboo words in English."

    Call me a prig. I'm sure you will.

  29. Martha said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 7:55 pm

    I don't see any emotion in ellipses. It seems to indicate someone trailing off when a thought doesn't need to be completely communicated. I feel like I see it most often after "so." I've been trying to think of a good example, but I can't think of one, so… (Or at least, I really notice it when someone ends a sentence like that with just one period. It seems so curt.)

    Thrica, I agree! "Please" can sound impatient!

  30. Joe Fineman said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 7:58 pm

    In the 1940s & '50s, IIRC, there was a fashion for dots in advertising. Alan Harrington, in _Life in the Crystal Palace_ (1958), quotes, from someone who overdid it when the fashion had passed:

    Man Alive!…Disovered Caribbean?…Heard Others Talk About It?…Care To Try A Glass?…It's The Rum With A PUNCH….

    It may be that some of your older informants picked up the habit during that depraved era.

  31. caryatis said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 8:01 pm

    I agree with Mara K, the ellipsis can be like a softening particle. I spend a lot of time trying to sound like presumptuous or more enthusiastic in email with ellipses and exclamation marks. For instance, when making a request of a professor, I wrote: "I'd appreciate any thoughts…" But my male friend (we're 28-30) thinks this is unnecessary and uses periods where I would have ellipses/exclamation marks.

  32. Bruce said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 10:00 pm

    I read it as "Address is correct … [you idiot]". To be used in response to "Are you sure you sent me the right address?"

  33. Joyce Melton said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 10:13 pm

    I'm amazed. I edit other people's writing for publication and have to constantly tell them that an ellipsis is not the best way to indicate a simple pause in dialog. Most of the comments above sound like they are coming from a different planet. Has this got something to do with sexting or…?

  34. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 10:37 pm

    Joyce Melton: I'm with you. I use ellipses very rarely to indicate that I'm omitting something or, very rarely, to give a voice-trailing-off effect. I'd have no idea how to interpret "Address is correct…" without a lot of other clues.

    I occasionally see people who use them all the time and wonder whether they don't want to use any punctuation mark that one of their teachers has marked wrong.

  35. Keith said,

    August 2, 2014 @ 2:48 am

    I'm not at all annoyed by the use of the ellipsis (45 yrs old, English).

    What annoys me is when people refer to it as "three periods" instead of ellipsis. It is not a sequence of three full stops … , it has its own code point in Unicode (U+2026) and looks like this …

    :-P

  36. Keith said,

    August 2, 2014 @ 2:50 am

    Ah, something rather amusing happened to my post…

    I typed a sequence of three full stops and the comment system converted them into an ellipsis!!11!1!!!!

  37. Alan Palmer said,

    August 2, 2014 @ 3:15 am

    Keith,

    At least it was recognised as an ellipsis. In fact, saying 'those extra periods' is quite correct, as one period (or full stop) would have been sufficient.

  38. Adam said,

    August 2, 2014 @ 4:34 am

    On the issue of ellipses expressing melancholy, I wonder whether there's any influence from English translations of Japanese video games. In classic JRPGs, characters will often "speak" ellipses, indicating an inability to speak for whatever reason. (TVtropes tells me this is visible silence.)

    I'm 32 and grew up playing JRPGs, and this way of using the ellipsis is pretty much indelible in my memory. If the trope has survived into newer games popular with younger gamers (e.g. the Pokemon series), their reaction to ellipses might be affected similarly.

  39. Darkwhite said,

    August 2, 2014 @ 10:35 am

    Would it perhaps be possible to get the original author's comments on why the ellipsis bothers him? There seems to be a lot of fanciful speculation going on, and it really shouldn't be impossible to get a hold of him with only one level of e-mail indirection.

  40. Neil Dolinger said,

    August 2, 2014 @ 11:06 am

    @Joyce Melton, what do you advise your clients to use to indicate a simple pause in dialog in place of ellipses?

  41. Jack said,

    August 2, 2014 @ 12:15 pm

    I generally use ellipses to indicate a sentence that would be pronounced as if it were "incomplete" if I were speaking in an informal setting. In cases like that, I don't mind ellipses, but I do mind when people use them as a sort of all-purpose punctuation mark.

    Also, yes, the Pokemon series does use ellipses to indicate silence or a lack of response.

  42. Ray Dillinger said,

    August 2, 2014 @ 1:00 pm

    @Eric P. Smith

    Considering the exact nature of your disagreement, it is doubtful in my opinion that "Prig" would be a word that finds any use in the vocabulary of someone whose preferences are precisely those at issue.

    My own objection to the word 'fuck' is that It is monotonous. People whose first resort it is use it rather than any more specific or appropriate term for every kind of insult. Thereby they lose all shades of degree and meaning in their terms of approbation.

    If one feels inclined to curse, isn't it at least worth the effort to curse fluently and well?

  43. PeterW said,

    August 2, 2014 @ 3:31 pm

    The issue is not so much the ellipsis as what to use instead.

    As this link (and others) point out, using a period when texting is sometimes considered to be a mark of anger.

    http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115726/period-our-simplest-punctuation-mark-has-become-sign-anger

    I'm not sure how this came to be, but it does seem to be true among the people with whom I text.

    So "The address is correct.", then, is not a solution, as it comes across as curt and, well, almost rude. The period seems to cut off any any further communication. It means that the conversation is over, and further texts are, or might be, unwelcome.

    Thus the ellipsis – it is used, presumably, because it indicates that the conversation is not over; it's an invitation to further texts, if desired.

  44. Difficat said,

    August 2, 2014 @ 5:33 pm

    Sometimes softening an abrupt statement is necessary, but I would never do it with ellipses. I generally add informal or unusual word(s), such as "Yep, that address is correct," or "Affirmative on the address." I don't think anyone I write to would see those as rude or abrupt.

    The ellipses can be very annoying. A few ellipses are fine, but I once had a coworker who used them every three or four words, and never bothered with complete sentences. I worked in IT and she would send me requests for help that looked like this.

    "…not sure how to…trying something else…?…problems with…email…could use your advice…or help…???"

    To me, these communicated despair, muddy thinking, and an utter disregard for my time. I would have greatly preferred something abrupt, like, "Emails not going out, need help soonest."

  45. karl said,

    August 2, 2014 @ 5:49 pm

    Let's make it easy, shall we? This is an ellipsis: …
    This, on the other hand, is a sad ellipsis: …
    See the difference?

  46. hanmeng said,

    August 2, 2014 @ 7:29 pm

    I'm decades past 25, and only recall using ellipses the way Ray Dillinger does. I have never texted and don't email much anymore either.

    But now….

  47. Bathrobe said,

    August 3, 2014 @ 10:52 am

    Funny, I thought I picked up my ellipsis habit from Japanese manga. Looks like I was wrong…

  48. CD said,

    August 3, 2014 @ 5:23 pm

    I found I was using it in e-mails to take the edge off my words. This fits the defense above that the ellipsis invites conversation, but also the complaint that it's passive-aggressive.

    So for the last couple years I've been suppressing them. If I hesitate to put a simple period at the end of a sentence, why am I writing it?

  49. Tom said,

    August 3, 2014 @ 5:31 pm

    Remember The Waterworks by Doctorow? The very frequent ellipses were a sort of narrative tic that seemed to be there for no reason other than to annoy the bejabbers out of the reader.

  50. JR said,

    August 3, 2014 @ 6:01 pm

    @Joyce Melton:

    I use the ellipses a lot, but only in informal settings. A lot of the examples given so far seem of that nature as well and not something to be published.

    Like others, I use it to denote something is left out; not as a pause. "Uncle Joe is coming over later…" What I left out was something like, "and you know what that means."

  51. William Steed said,

    August 4, 2014 @ 12:35 am

    I'm a serial ellipse user (Australian, early 30s, in case anyone's keeping track), typically in an informal context. Like JR, I use it when I'm implying that there's more information that the speaker should know.

    In a Natural Semantic Metalanguage sort of framework, something like:

    "I'm saying something, but there is something else that I'm not saying.
    I know that you know this thing."

  52. Nathan said,

    August 4, 2014 @ 11:22 am

    I don't think I use ellipsis in email (except in quotations, which would be formal enough to be pretty rare). I do use ellipsis in instant messages at work, usually as "Let me look that up…" or similar. It's a way of excusing/explaining the pause that will come before my actual response.

  53. enki2 said,

    August 4, 2014 @ 11:39 am

    I've definitely observed a generational difference in the use of ellipses — between gen-x-ers (and older) and gen-y-ers (and younger). The older generation seems to use them more often, in general, particularly online (regardless of medium). I tend to be more surprised when they appear in formal contexts — work emails and the like; I also feel like they are used more often by older women (although I don't have data for this).

    While generational use of ellipses in informal text communication isn't easy to test using google n-grams, it might be possible to draw a random sample from facebook if you get a bunch of people to pool public profile lists.

  54. fs said,

    August 4, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

    So it's not just me! As a 23-year-old, I definitely saw the (over)use of ellipses as a marker of older people who didn't work professional jobs.

  55. help im a bug said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

    i'd just like to point out that the lack of capitals and punctuation in the excerpt is *almost certainly* an intentional stylistic choice on the part of the writer

    tumblr is not full of kids who have no idea how to write properly, it is full of kids who have no interest in writing like old people

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