Reading between the dots…

ellipses1I love ellipses…

If you’ve been reading my blog posts for any length of time, you may have noticed I use ellipses often at the end of my post titles. Doing so (at least so often) breaks grammar etiquette — according to the Grammar Girl. I love grammar, and I teach English. Not only that, but I also am a trained copy editor, persnickety by nature, and a grammar snob. Go figure. And yet I love to use ellipses at the end of my titles. (I also love to start sentences with the word and. Rule breaker.)

Ellipses can be used for a variety of reasons. Most often, they indicate an intentional omission of a word or words from an original text being quoted. They also can indicate an unfinished thought or a drifting off into silence within a conversation. Wikipedia suggests the ellipsis can “inspire a feeling of melancholy or longing” when placed at the beginning or end of a sentence. When I read ellipses in personal correspondence, I tend to read between the dots, inserting what I think was intended. When I include ellipses in my blog titles, I want you to imagine the depth of writing yet to come. Maybe…

But the real reason I use ellipses is because ellipses and I have a history. In fact, ellipses are the main reason I married my first husband.

I met Bill Olson the summer of 1987 in Wildwood, New Jersey, and I knew almost from the beginning that he was not the man for me. He was “taken,” meaning that a fellow student on our mission adventure, actually from his college in Wisconsin, had a crush on him. I can still see her face, though I cannot remember her name. To me, Bill was off limits — until I fell in love with him. The day had begun like any other: waiting tables at Uncle Lou’s restaurant for me; working the counter at McDonald’s for Bill. When I collapsed into a lawn chair on the porch of our summer home for students involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, I happened to sit next to Bill, and for some reason I began surveying him as I would a perfect stranger on the Wildwood boardwalk. But these were deep and personal questions — used to swing the conversation “casually” to Jesus Christ — and Bill’s answers made me quite aware of him.

Our next encounter led to the ellipses, which were all Bill’s fault. (How could I resist? Sorry, unnamed girl. I did not set out to steal your crush.) I had gone to the Red Oak restaurant for cheesecake and coffee with a girlfriend; we had run into Bill, who was writing letters home. Somewhere in the midst of conversation, we had challenged him to write us. He did; well, at least, he wrote me:

Hey there,

This is me (Bill). I’m at the Red Oak. You guys should not have told me to write because now I am. . . Just call me silly. I want you to know that you really are great. I hope you are having a great week ‘cuz you deserve it. (John J. lives).

Take care.

He had addressed the envelope to Sara Saunders (the one from Florida) and actually mailed it to me, though we all lived in the same house.

The next time I got an ellipses filled letter, the envelope was addressed to “Sara Sota (I’ll get your last name right some day)” — and I was already filling in the dots enough to think, “That’s because my last name will be Olson.” (Yeah. I was smitten.)

The letter outlined our first official date (which would be a formal dinner at McDonald’s ending in hanging spoons from our noses; the spoon hanging was not part of the plan). The letter included, “Dress up. Skirt or nice pants is fine … formal prom dress o.k. … satin evening gown is not a good idea.”

The next ellipses were in a note tucked into my mailbox at the house, embedded in this sentence: “Your notes, cards and smiles have really encouraged me this past week … very much.”

The notes became more frequent:

  • “I hope we have a chance to talk again soon … “
  • “I hope I haven’t been monopolizing your time … “
  • “You are a special woman and your heart and thoughts have really refreshed me. Especially last night … having that chance to get to know you better.”
  • “Take care … “

The summer ended too quickly, but the romance continued — long distance. Wisconsin is far too far from Florida. Those were the days when we paid by the minute for long-distance phone calls and the Internet didn’t exist; we spent much more energy writing letters and cards. Visits were only occasional, but even so we managed to fall deeper in love, probably because I read so much into those ellipses.

Two years after our first date, Bill and I married. As we rejoiced in finally being able to live in each other’s presence, we talked about our long-distance love, and I told Bill how much his ellipses meant to me.

“Ellipses? Oh, that!” he responded. “I just could never think of anything else to say.”

Sigh. Wooed by my own imagination.  And yet I use this tool to woo my readers. Shame on me.


(Bill Olson died of complications from ulcer surgery October 21, 1991. Life as I knew it was over, but life itself was not. God filled in the hole — or, maybe, ellipses — Bill’s death caused in my life. My life is still filled with love and laughter — and ellipses of my own making.)

2 thoughts on “Reading between the dots…

  1. I enjoyed the read today, thank you. I especially enjoyed it because I have been hauled over the coals on several occasions, within a particular writing group, because of ellipses. Apparently they’re a no-no because I’m too lazy to write my thoughts! Hello … what happened to show not tell. I’ll be back to visit a gal with a shared philosophy around ellipses. Many conversations trail off and how does one convey such if not with ellipses.


    1. Hmmmm…. ellipses = laziness? Nah. They’re sort of the equivalent of wearing clothes to cover yourself. Modesty, perhaps? I’ve heard people comment aloud when a woman has worn clothes that expose too much: “Leave something to the imagination.” Maybe that’s what ellipses — outside of the traditional gap-filler in quotations — does for writing? 🙂 Keep me posted!


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