Kevin's Rules of Elision Revealed!

| Wed Dec. 28, 2011 3:08 PM EST

A few days ago I got one of my oddest requests ever: a regular reader wanted to know just what my rules were for using ellipses. As a blogger who quotes other people's material all the time, I use ellipses a lot, and it's true that I use them in different ways depending on just what I've elided. But there's method to my madness! And since this is the slowest news week of the year, today I'm giving away my secrets.

And make no mistake: this is not official MoJo style. It's not AP style. I don't even know if there are any official-ish rules for indicating that you've snipped passages out of quoted material. But here's how I do it. I expect this to be my most controversial post ever.

What I'm Snipping

 
How I Do It


Example

Entire paragraph

.... at beginning of next paragraph

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness [etc.]

....It was the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five [etc.]

Why I do it: An ellipsis isn't normally used at the beginning of a paragraph, so this usage makes it extremely obvious that something has been left out. An ellipsis at the end of a paragraph can be missed if you're reading in a hurry.

I've been doing this for ten years now, and as near as I can tell not a single other person has adopted my convention. However, this is the sad fate of many unheralded geniuses, and all I can do is persevere.

Entire sentence

....

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys' house....This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household, were painfully conscious of it.

Phrase or short passage within a sentence

[...]

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago [...] having little or no money in my purse [etc.]

One or two words, usually for purely grammatical reasons

[]

Original: My friend Dr. Marc likes to say that Democrats are stupid and that Republicans are evil.

Snippet: Democrats are stupid and [] Republicans are evil.

Words at beginning of sentence

...., but no bracket for capital letters

Original: Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.

Snippet:  ....There was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.

Why I do it: The ellipsis already indicates that text has been removed, so brackets around the first letter are unnecessary. With the exception of legal texts where absolute precision is paramount, I think using brackets around a single letter (i.e., [T]here) is generally ugly, distracting, and superfluous.