Ellipses

[Last week’s newsletter featured an article on British and American spelling. Thank goodness a reader who actually knows about such things sent some corrections. Please see the Readers Write column (below the main article) for details. I’ll postpone my article on British to American translation (bonnet/hood) until I’ve verified my list with more than just Internet research. 🙂 ]

In the documentation for our FileCleaner program, I say, “Authors have numerous ways of typing ellipses. Some use the horrid little ellipses ‘character’ available in some symbol fonts. Others type three periods in a row with no spacing in between. And there are many other variations.”

So is there a *right* way to display ellipses in Microsoft Word? Yes, there is: any way that communicates clearly and looks good. In my opinion, that excludes the ellipses character (?), which Microsoft calls a “horizontal ellipsis” (PC character 133; Mac character 201; Unicode character 2026: press ALT + CTRL + . on a PC or OPTION + ; on a Mac). Let me explain my loathing of this little beast.

First, it doesn’t communicate clearly. If it appears between two bits of text, like this?it’s really too short to convey the idea that something has been left out (ellipses often indicate omission) or that the reader should pause. You can add a space on either side ? but then what’s the point of using the character?

Second, it doesn’t look good. It’s tiny and ugly, like flyspecks on a wall. If you try to remedy that by putting spaces on the sides, those spaces don’t match the spacing between the dots, so the whole thing looks funny. Also, sometimes you’ll need to use ellipses with a period. But in many typefaces, the period isn’t the same size as the ellipses dots, and there’s no way to get the spacing after the period to match the spacing between the dots.?Finally, since spacing in the ellipses character is fixed, it won’t justify with the spaces in the rest of your text.

Besides, the character didn’t exist in the days of setting type by hand. It’s a capitulation to “desktop publishing” and has no place in fine typography.

How, then, should ellipses be created in Microsoft Word? One way is to type a straightforward succession of spaces and periods. . . . The meaning is clear, and they look fine. I’d recommend that you use nonbreaking spaces around the middle dot of the ellipses so they won’t break at the end of a line, like this. .

. . but go neatly to the beginning of the next line, like this.

. . . To illustrate, the ellipses should be entered like this ( indicates a regular space and indicates a nonbreaking space):

...

To enter a nonbreaking space, press CTRL + SHIFT + SPACEBAR, which is nearly as easy as hitting the spacebar alone. In fact, why not record the whole sequence of characters as a macro and then assign the macro to a keyboard shortcut? For more information, see these issues of Editorium Update:

http://www.topica.com/lists/editorium/read/message.html?mid=1706651129

http://www.topica.com/lists/editorium/read/message.html?mid=1707100224 (Reader’s Write column)

Some typographers argue that a standard space is too wide to use in ellipses. If you agree, you can use a thin space, which is sometimes defined as half the width of a standard space. Next week, I’ll explain how to get one.

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READERS WRITE

After reading last week’s article on British and American spelling, Clive Tolley of Clive Tolley Editorial Services wrote:

Please note parallelled is INCORRECT in British spelling: it has one l only.

Also, -ise/-ize is NOT a British/American distinction; it is simply a trend that -ise tends to be used more in Britain, but e.g. Oxford Univ. Press demands -ize.

I think it may be tricky trying to use a list for this sort of replacement; for example, it is probably quicker searching for ise/ize, ise/izing, isa/iza, similarly I should think for ae/e, and changing each in turn – after all there are many exceptions, at least where ize is the norm but ise has to be used in some words. My editing work involves about half and half English and American, and here at least for the companies I work for we don’t change the spelling etc., but publish according to the author’s usage (which actually sometimes means something in between, quite often American spelling but largely English punctuation – in general we standardise the norm). I find it a bit difficult sometimes when editing American scripts, since I just scarcely notice when I see the to me natural ‘travelled’ etc., on which point I have found quite a bit of inconsistency in American scripts (of course, many of the standard British forms are also listed in Webster as acceptable alternatives in America).

It is not just spelling which differs; it is also punctuation. E.g. in British English we place punctuation around quotation marks according to logic, so punctuation only goes within them if it belongs to the original quotation. The Editors’ Toolkit will place punctuation according to American usage, which is not much use to us here; I wish the opposite function was also included, so we could more easily correct punctuation to what we need.

There are many other differences, e.g. much less of en rules in America, which can’t be catered for automatically.

Many thanks to Clive for his astute corrections and observations.

_________________________________________

RESOURCES

Lots of links, news, contacts, fonts, and utilities are available at Microsoft’s typography site:

http://www.microsoft.com/typography/default.asp

Are you worried about eyestrain and repetitive strain injury? Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., offers a wealth of information to help you stay healthy and productive:

http://www.sfwa.org/ergonomics/

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