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The Meaning of Ending Messages with Ellipses

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Toshi, a 27-year-old in Dallas, Texas, wonders about differences in the way she and her parents use punctuation in text messages. When older adults send her texts using ellipses, Toshi gets a queasy feeling that it’s because they’re upset with her, or behaving passive-aggressively. And she’s not the only one. In her seminal book about online communication, Because Internet, Linguist Gretchen McCulloch addresses this question at length. Using ellipses in texts can mean different things to different people, depending on users’ individual communication styles and the internet cultures to which they belong. This is part of a complete episode.

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  • I can offer insight into why at least one person uses ellipses online. I made a conscious decision to do this back in the early ’80s on Usenet, when I realized that typing a message stream-of-consciousness style resulted in a series of “sentences” that weren’t grammatically complete, and therefore couldn’t properly be punctuated as if they were.

    I suppose I could have tried to throw in an occasional full stop (followed by two spaces and capitalizing the next word, as we were taught back then), even for mere sentence fragments, but I’ve recently learned that some younger people think even putting a period at the end of a text comes off as insulting. Could even have tried a semicolon splice when the adjacent thoughts were closely related, but then I recalled that the FBI was able to profile of the Unabomber because his correct use of semicolons marked him as (1) highly educated and (2) mentally unstable.

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