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It turns out that Hodges is in charge of a charity that distributes crates of medicines to poor people in Uganda, but at first I thought, "Now that's a specialty."

Thanks to KJDW for spotting this.

I just had to go inside this medical office to find out about Medicines for Ugandans, but before I got past the vestibule I saw this sign.

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It's uncommon enough to see a sign telling you to wipe your feet at all.  I mean, most folks just plop down a doormat and hope for the best.  But it's really uncommon, and a bit imperious, for a sign to tell you to wipe your feet on sunny days.

Unnecessary ellipses.  But what really cracked me up about this sign is the ellipses.   The first one, even though it should have been a simple comma if anything at all, at least promises to make some kind of sense.  (But, alas, as it turns out it doesn't.)

But what the heck does the second ellipsis mean?  It can mean only that the sign isn't finished, that there's more.

(If you type much, especially on a computer keyboard to other people in a real-time chat or in dialogues such as e-mail or Facebook, there's a further discussion of excessive ellipses here.)

That second ellipsis -- with a period at the end no less -- is equivalent to my ending this very sentence like this . . . .

It makes no sense . . . .  It's not cute or friendly or self-effacing or endearing . . . .  It's just an example of an illiteracy that draws unnecessary attention to itself . . . .

Ellipses are used too often as a substitute for the correct punctuation, and the language suffers for it.

There's a difference between a colon and a semicolon, between a period and a comma.  The differences are worth preserving, even at the cost of having to learn them, both as a reader and as a writer.  Here are some examples of an ellipsis masquerading as various punctuation marks.

Period: You're a pilobolus . . . And everyone knows it.

Comma: You're a pilobolus . . . and everyone knows it.

Colon: Here are three reasons you're a pilobolus . . . You can't help it, you've always been one, and you always will be.

Semicolon: You're the sort of pilobolus who isn't all that clever at hiding it . . . we all know you are one.

Dash: You're the sort of pilobolus who . . . and everyone knows it . . . isn't all that clever at hiding anything.

Parentheses: You're the sort of pilobolus who . . . remember, I told you this was all a big lie . . . is most like me.

If being lazy by using an ellipsis to stand in for the right punctuation is a misdemeanor, using one at the end of a line is a felony.

When you end with an ellipsis, you're doing what the signwriter above did.  She could not possibly have intended for that second ellipsis to stand for any punctuation mark, so she had to mean that there was more to come, that her thought was unfinished.

If there was a specific thought behind it, exactlly what thought was it?  And no matter what it turns out to be, how could we possibly have known?

But, you know what?  I'll bet there was no further specific idea she meant to convey, such as "because even on sunny days your shoes track in a surprisingly large number of harmful microbes."

Nope, I'll bet she hoped that you would somehow magically finish her thought for her.  And you know what else?  I'll bet she hoped you would not only finish it but finish it well.  She was hoping you'd assume she meant something particularly meaningful or witty or provocative or wise or charming.

Don't fall for it.  When a line ends in an ellipsis for no obvious reason, you have the right to suspect the writer is trying to fool you.  Or herself.

If you're the reader, it's desirable, of course, to recognize that the writer is trying to fool you.  You can be on the lookout for other examples.

If you're the writer of such an ellipsis, you owe it to your readers to try harder.

There's yet more about ellipses here.


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