Language is dynamic, whether we like it or not. Recently I wrote an article with a sub-title Chillaxin with the Big Dogs. When I was younger, I would have had a twitching eye and levels of stress that were off the charts if I even considered using a word like ‘chillax.’ When I was younger, I loved diagramming sentences. The way the words, or parts of speech, fit together into meaningful sentences was – and still is to me – as beautiful as a symphony by Wagner or a mural by Michelangelo.
The best thing about them was that they were always the same. ‘The’ was an article that went before a noun; in fact, it was a definite article. We weren’t just talking any old noun, but a definite, singular, and unique noun. And the same beauty ran through each and every word, spelling, phrase, part of speech, and even punctuation.
Now I do recognise that back then I had a childishly simple view of language. Language, punctuation, and everything associated with them are constantly changing. Just consider that 30 years ago we wouldn’t have been able to argue about whether ‘online’ is a hyphenated word or not, because ‘online’ was not a word then. And 10 years ago, if someone had said, ‘Chillax, Dude!’ most of us would have just rolled our eyes and shaken our heads.
When a new word comes into being, it’s actually quite simple to classify and categorise it. For example, ‘chillax’ is clearly a verb.
Today I will chillax.
Yesterday I was way more chillaxed than I am today.
Tomorrow, hopefully, I will be chillaxing by the pool.
We get a lot of new words added to the dictionary every year. Even acronyms from computer-speak such as LOL and ROTF are making their way into common usage.
What about new punctuation, though? It seems we are mostly set in our ways when it comes to punctuation. We have the standards like full stops, commas, and exclamation marks. Then there are the less commonly used such as the ampersand, brackets, and the tilde (look it up!) Of course there are the ones no one really uses or knows much about like the caret, the percontation point (aka rhetorical question mark), or even the because symbol. We don’t really get many new punctuation symbols these days.
Now we get to the crux of the matter. Take a look on social media, in chat rooms, and even in business emails. You’ve probably noticed and even likely used the dot dot dot. No, I’m not talking about the ellipsis. Most style manuals agree that the ellipsis is formed by three spaced full stops: Paul is eating at Mia’s. I am . . . at David’s. The definition of an ellipsis is that it symbolises words or phrases that have been left out of the sentence. In the sentence above, the missing words might be ‘planning on eating’ as in ‘I am planning on eating at David’s.’
The dot dot dot
The dot dot dot, however, has come about from computer speak. It is three non-spaced full stops, and it generally implies a long pause that means something like ‘I haven’t decided yet. Give me a second or two,’ or ‘I’m thinking. Hang on a minute.’
For example, in messenger, you might ask me to meet you for coffee after work. I might respond, ‘I have to get home early as I have training tomorrow…but I can manage an hour or so. Yes, let’s meet!’ The dot dot dot doesn’t represent any missing or implied words. It just means that I am thinking about whether I need to get directly home or whether I can spare some time to meet you for coffee.
Normally, computer speak wouldn’t be a big problem, but, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, this particular piece of punctuation is making its way into normal business writing, from messages and emails to reports. You might even have used it yourself a time or two. It looks like it’s here to stay…or at least it seems that way.
So, what are we going to call this new punctuation mark? The Thinking Dots? The Dot Dot Dot? The Squished Ellipsis? How about The Long Comma…or perhaps The Pause? Drop me a note here or send me an email to let me know what you think our new punctuation mark should be called!