Grammarously Speaking: Dot-Dot-Dot Bubbles and Lawyers

While lunching with new friend and social media guru @apudave yesterday, our conversation turned to grammar.
I was so happy.
The topic? Ellipses.
You know . . . those little dot-dot-dots?
We had quite divergent views on spacing, appropriate usage, surrounding punctuation and why, oh, why, lawyers ALWAYS have to be different.
After promising to look into the entire matter, here is my synopsis.
  1. Treat ellipses as missing words. That way, the grammar and punctuation rules make more sense. If you are collapsing two sentences and removing words from the beginning of the second sentence, that means that you retain the period from the first sentence and add the ellipsis afterwards. So your quote would look like this: "@glambert is a fine fellow. . . . and that is all that I have to say about @gnawledge."
  2. Spacing is optional, but desirable. I know, in this Twitter-infested world, spaces are throw-aways. But it does make for a more eye-pleasing read . . . don't you think?
  3. Punctuation should be retained. If you are quoting a paragraph and parsing out a sentence, you should include the quote's punctuation. Grammar Girl gives some great examples of usage with other punctuation: “Aardvark went home . . . ; Squiggly would meet him later.” [Note the space between the ellipsis and the semicolon.]
  4. Use ellipses sparingly. Ellipses can be used to either indicate missing words, trailing thoughts or separate disconnected phrases. The first type is a grammar choice, the other two or style choices. Any way you do it, just don't over do it.
  5. Lawyers use ellipses in weird ways. I could regurgitate the rules but will instead point you to The Bluebook §§ 5.3-5.4. Basically? Don't start or end a quote with an ellipsis. And if you are skipping one or more paragraphs, do a hard return, indent, then place four periods (". . . .") on its own line.
You gotta love those lawyers; only they would quote entire PARAGRAPHS of text.
As an added bonus for sticking with me through this oh so interesting post, here's a little PC shortcut for you: when you type 3 periods in a row, the spacing will create automatically. Alternately, if press Ctrl+Alt and a period, it will create the ellipsis too.
Who knew grammar could be so controversial . . . ?

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Anonymous said...

This is basically right. I don't have a Bluebook in front of me, but I beleve that you are supposed to retain ellipses at the end of quoted material if it's being used as a complete sentence to avoid misleading the reader. The CMS has a much more thorough treatment of ellipses (although you'll find that there several systems of ellipses use, and we law folk use something close to the rigorous method it describes). For the very hardcore, the CMS also provides lots of technical details, such as when it is and isn't okay to have an ellipses formation span two lines.

James Liu said...

The amount of spacing between dots in an ellipsis is a matter of typography, NOT grammar. Modern word processors (and all lawyers have them) replace all dotdotdots with an ellipsis character which is spaced optimally for the typeface which surrounds it.

And here is another annoying habit of lawyers. They always carry with them their habits from anachronistic technologies. I mean, Courier New? Those annoying parentheses on the front page of pleadings? Really?


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