April 17, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips (April 17, 2002) Behooves, Ellipses

Posted in behoove, ellipses at 7:06 pm by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Behooves: to use or not to use?

A reader writes:

Deb, how about “behooves”? I found myself using that word to my class. “It behooves us to learn quantitative risk assessment…” Does anyone use that anymore? I don’t even remember where I learned it.

Personally, I think “behooves” is a fine old word. And I use it myself (which is probably why I think it’s a fine old word.) It has a subtlety of meaning that no other word quite provides.

be·hoove, from Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)

1. to be necessary or proper for, as for moral or ethical considerations; be incumbent on: It behooves the court to weigh evidence impartially.

2. to be worthwhile to, as for personal profit or advantage: It would behoove you to be nicer to those who could help you

The former definition is the original one, while the latter is more recent—but still accepted and acceptable. A couple of the references I looked at considered “behoove” to be dated, most did not. So go right on using “behoove.” I will, too.

It behooves us to be open to and accepting of alternative points of view but, in the end, we know that we are right.

The above email has also given me an idea for Tip 2.

Tip 2: The use of the ellipsis.

The ellipsis is both the omission of a word or words in writing as well as the mark that indicates the omission, so the ellipsis denotes the ellipsis. Isn’t English fun? The ellipsis mark is represented by three periods (…). The preferred way to indicate an ellipsis has traditionally been three periods with spaces in between the periods (. . . ); however, with the advent of word processors, with sentence breaks and line wrapping, it is no longer practical. The writer has less control of where lines break so these days so the ellipsis is commonly seen as three periods without the spaces. There are only a few rules of thumb when it comes to the use of ellipses.

When a sentence ends in a period, type the period and then add the ellipsis for a total of four periods.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announces the availability of fiscal year (FY) 2008 funds to develop a consortium of national networks to expand the science of tobacco control within populations experiencing tobacco-related disparities….

When a sentence ends in an abbreviation that has periods, do not add another period before the ellipsis. The ellipsis should never have more than four periods.

The new patient safety and bioinformatics conference will be held in Washington. D.C….

When you want to denote suspense or emphasize a deliberate trailing off, use the ellipsis. At the end of the sentence, omit the period, insert a space and then the ellipsis.

We will find out what happened to Dr. Honeybee in the next installment of All the Bees of our Hives …

Mid-sentence, just insert the ellipsis where needed.

You’ll never guess the score I got on my grant proposal. I got a…

Finally, I would like to get your thoughts about this: When I was writing tip 2 and describing the ellipsis, my first inclination was to describe it as three dots rather than three periods. Since I use the dot reference so frequently (seltzer@pitt dot edu), it seemed more natural. When I thought it over, I decided to be more traditional and use the period. I wonder if the period is going to evolve into the dot. What do you think of its use?

NOTE: In the UK, “dot” has been used instead of “period” since long before the internet was created.

6 Comments »

  1. seltzer said,

    Scott writes:

    Do you need a semicolon (or a conjunction) between “dated” and “most” to prevent a run-on sentence?
    A couple of the references I looked at considered “behoove” to be dated, most did not.

    I personally like “period.”

    Thanks for another set of interesting tips.
    Scott

  2. seltzer said,

    Scott is absolutely right. There should have been a semicolon after “dated.”
    mea culpa.

  3. seltzer said,

    Jackie writes:

    When I lived in California a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle engaged in what he described as ‘three dot’ journalism (Herb Caen). The ellIipsis, in this case, marked a change of topic without creating a new paragraph. He ended the sentence with a period, left a space, inserted three dots, left another space, and began the new sentence with a new topic. So when I think of three dots I think of this journalism style.

  4. seltzer said,

    Alan writes:

    Ellipses are used frequently in legal writing. There is one addition that I might add to the tip below — omitting words at the end of a sentence. For example, take your sentence below:

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announces the availability of fiscal year (FY) 2008 funds to develop a consortium of national networks to expand the science of tobacco control within populations experiencing tobacco-related disparities….

    Instead of omitting the next sentence, which you show above with 3 dots following the period, I want to drop the last few words of the above sentence. That is done by putting 3 dots BEFORE the period. However, if no spaces are inserted between the dots, they look precisely the same.

    Thus, in legal writing, we would render the sentence above this way:

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announces the availability of fiscal year (FY) 2008 funds to develop a consortium of national networks to expand the science of tobacco control within populations experiencing tobacco-related disparities. . . . (ie, a period followed by 3 dots).

    If we wished instead of dropping text after the above sentence to drop text at the end of the above sentence, it would be rendered this way:

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announces the availability of fiscal year (FY) 2008 funds to develop a consortium of national networks to expand the science of tobacco control . . . . (space, 3 dots, period)

    That single space between “control” and the first dot/period signifies that the material dropped was within the sentence rather than after it. That kind of precision is sometimes very important (and sometimes not) because it helps tell the reader where the omission occurs.

    This is why it’s important to retain the spaces between the dots

  5. seltzer said,

    sara writes:

    Interesting…in Portuguese we don’t even use the word “period” with this meaning. We only used it as “period of time”.

    We only use “dot”. By the way, when I arrived here I was saying “dot” for everything: “dot” for “period”, “two dots” for “:” and “three dots” for “…”. These are the literal translations from Portuguese to English.

  6. seltzer said,

    Derek writes:

    Yep, we Brits have said ‘dot’ for ages. I wasn’t even sure I understood your dilemma at first over dots and periods.


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