Ellipses, those three dots we sometimes end a statement with, whether printed or spoken, throw the doors open wide and then… 

I’ll admit ignorance about this three dot phenomenon and even to its name but I won’t tell you I don’t understand what it does. Before I knew (or had forgotten, apologies to my grammar teachers) what these things (…) were called my kids had used it on me a thousand times (Yes, I counted).

“Well, we went to Christie’s house after school and had a snack and, yeah…..”

The “and yeah” thing infuriated me. I wanted to shake them and say, “Finish your thought! Don’t leave me hanging!” but that wasn’t what they wanted. They wanted me to make an assumption about what they did. If they told me what happened perhaps they would have had to admit to doing something or going somewhere or engaging in some risky behavior that they didn’t want me to know about. It was better to “and yeah” than to lie. I can’t beat them up too badly though. I did the same thing to my parents with equally maddening results. I think my version was something like, “Well, duh!” It used to just light my mom up. The thing is being vague is nothing new and it’s everywhere.

We’re smack-dab (who came up with that phrase anyway) in the middle of the holiday season. Who hasn’t heard the song, “Deck the Halls”? Isn’t “Fa la la la la, la la la la” just a way for the lyricist to fill time and make us feel better? What if they would have put in the words they intended?

Deck the halls with boughs of holly

I nearly killed myself,

On the roof last night!

See? That’s not very festive now is it? Songwriters have always done this though. From my father’s era:

Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?

Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?

Who put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop?

Who put the dip in the dip da dip da dip?…

When Barry Mann released “Who Put the Bomp” in 1961 he obviously had some very important existential questions. I just don’t really know what those were. The great (?) part is I can fill in my own blanks. That’s what being vague allows. It’s a blessing or a curse, whichever way you want to look at it.

Just like my kids used to work me when they were younger (like they don’t still) the ellipses takes the responsibility of filling in the blank and puts it squarely on the shoulders of the listener, not the speaker. Who didn’t, or still doesn’t use “you know?” Consider the beauty of “you know.” While I’m admittedly a closet language and words geek you have to love it. “You know” invites agreement but not on the speaker’s terms. It says, “You agree, right?” It says, “Surely you understand, because you’re bright that way, like me, right?” And of course, we know. Who would admit they don’t know? Whether it was Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain or someone else who said it the adage, “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt” is self-preservation, really Self-Image Protection 101 (still pissed I got a C- in that class).

In conversation trailing off or throwing in the valley girl “whatever” leaves it all up to the other person. Granted a “whatever” is flippant but a good, thoughtful, trailing off statement carries heft, it carries weight; it makes us look like a deep thinker. Who knows we’ve just run out of words? No one. That’s the beauty of it…

Still, I can’t help wondering if this letting others finish our thoughts thing is really just mental laziness. Why don’t we go ahead and come to the conclusion already? Are we afraid of putting ourselves out there? Afraid of being challenged on our beliefs? Afraid we’ll have to support our opinions with facts when we really don’t have any of them, they’re just our opinions? It’s hard to say but I would wager a guess the answer is “yes” to a lot of those questions. See, if we do come to a conclusion we open ourselves up to our listener’s differing viewpoint.

We might have to actually engage in some meaningful discussion (Oh my!). Better to trail off, use the afore-mentioned phrases to covertly secure their agreement, than to make the statement and suffer the inevitable (perhaps) “Yeah, but…” because at that point, it’s off to the races. Anything can happen.

So what’s the point, what’s the conclusion in all this? Well, certainly this little ditty won’t change a social construct. My sashay down this path isn’t going to get young people to swear off being vague nor get anyone to finish their thought. It won’t force anyone to take a stand and say what they believe. What it may do is give you some food for thought and the next time someone leaves you hanging you won’t let them get away with it. You’ll ask the question, “What do you really mean there?” Who knows it might lead to a better understanding of where that person stands, a rousing conversation, maybe even an interesting debate. Then again…

If you got a kick out of this or have a friend or a kid that always leaves you hanging why not share this with them? The social icons are below. If you have some thoughts on this subject, I’d love to hear them. You can leave them below also.


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