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July 30, 2013

A plague of . . . ellipses!

NEW YORK — Earlier this summer, Choire Sicha, the writer, editor and co-founder of the Awl, came to an unpleasant realization. His emails, he noticed, had veered into the realm of the ridiculous.

"Suddenly, one day," he recalls, "I was delivering drifting, whiny telegraphs instead of emails: 'Hey . . . this is great . . . I don't know when I'll get to an edit but . . . one thing is you should think about the ending there . . . but maybe I'll find one in the middle for you, so don't worry too much . . . okay more soon!' "

Sicha, it turns out, had "picked up a really bad ellipsis habit," an affliction marked by three circular black dots that tend to appear, well, everywhere; in the most severe cases, anywhere from four to infinity dots will become visible. "It got out of control," he says.

If you've been there, you know Sicha's tumble into ellipsis overkill is no picnic. First it's just three simple dots every now and again. Then it's six at the end of text messages. Soon enough your average email consists of 48 dots and zero complete sentences. (For those looking to learn the actual rules of ellipsis usage, the Punctuation Guide provides a useful, if incomplete, primer. In more formal writing, ellipses are often used to show omissions from within a piece of text; in casual communications, they are used a zillion different ways.)

Sadly, the curious case of Choire Sicha is far from an uncommon scenario. Shortly after hearing from him and deciding to examine the issue more thoroughly, I received an email from a friend in Ohio that included two sentences . . . and six dots: "I just got back from softball . . . we got CREAMED . . ." Surely it had to be a coincidence. Perhaps the message was an aberration, or a Baader-Meinhof-type recognition on my part. To the cellphone!

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