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Answers to this question show that it is quite common to use the 'ellipsis' (three dots) in English writing to indicate a pause in speech for reasons of "confusion, insecurity, distress, or uncertainty".

I agree with this usage, but is it still appropriate to call the 3 dots an 'ellipsis' in this case? I generally associate 'ellipsis' with omission; indeed, that's its primary meaning, with the reference to the typographical 3 dots being secondary. Is there a better word or phrase to use to refer to the 3 dots being used to indicate a pause in speech (either real as in quotes, or abstract as in written prose)?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The better phrase to use to refer to the 3 dots being used to indicate a pause in speech is Suspension point, as we can read on Wikipedia:

The triple-dot punctuation mark is also called a suspension point, points of ellipsis, periods of ellipsis, or colloquially, dot-dot-dot.

However, Collins English Dictionaries defines suspension point as follow:

Suspension point - mainly US one of a group of dots, usually three, used in written material to indicate the omission of a word or words. Compare ellipsis (sense 2)*.

So, perhaps, the better phrase may be suspension points (note the 's' at the end).

* Ellipsis - Also called eclipsisomission of parts of a word or sentence printing a sequence of three dots (...) indicating an omission in text.

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When it is at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence, it is called aposiopesis . Example: "But I thought he was . . ." –  speedyGonzales Apr 6 '12 at 11:04
    
@speedyGonzales I think you are correct. Why not answer the question? You are more correct than you realize, even! That term seems to be applicable anywhere in the sentence per the following "[Aposiopesis] can simulate the impression of a speaker so overwhelmed by emotions that he or she is unable to continue speaking. . . . It can also convey a certain pretended shyness toward obscene expressions or even an everyday casualness." (Andrea Grun-Oesterreich, "Aposiopesis." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, ed. by Thomas O. Sloane. Oxford Univ. Press, 2001) –  Feral Oink Apr 6 '12 at 12:16
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Carlo, you've misinterpreted what Collins says. It says that each of the three dots is called a suspension point; that is, the name of each character is suspension point, as opposed to being a full stop, or "terminal point". The set of three dots still is called an ellipsis. –  jwpat7 Apr 6 '12 at 15:01
    
@speedyGonzales, aposiopesis is abrupt, rather than trailing, and indicated by dash (–) rather than dots (…). –  jwpat7 Apr 6 '12 at 15:07
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The Wikipedia article seems to be citing this typesetting manual, which I think is wrong. Periods, commas, semicolons, etc, are all (rarely) referred to as "suspension points", as @jwpay7 says. I think there is no significant recognition for the term specifically meaning the three-dot elipsis. –  FumbleFingers Apr 9 '12 at 4:46
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The name of the Unicode character U+2026 ('') is HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS.

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In scriptwriting, a pause in speech is parenthetically noted like this:

JACK
(shouting)
You think I can be bought?
(a beat)
A million dollars?

According to Wikipedia, a beat "usually refers to a pause in dialogue [which] shows readers of the script that a moment passes without any character speaking."

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@EugeneSeidel: there is no need to take downvotes personally (we downvote the answer, not the answerer), and it is not really polite to offend other users, especially when they clearly explain the reasons for their downvotes. Anyway, the question clearly asks about the ... sign, which is not called a beat (a term that is anyway restricted to filmmaking and possibly theater), therefore your answer is not replying to the OP's question. –  nico Apr 6 '12 at 16:40
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@Eugene Seidel: there is no such rule, everyone is free to answer as he or she wills. However if the community thinks that your answer is not replying to the question for whatever reason, whether you think it is fair or not, the answer will get downvoted. Rather than complaining it would be more proficuous to improve your answer. When I downvote an answer I try to explain why I did that so that the answerer can modify it (or not). Following that I can (or not) change my vote to a +1 or simply remove the -1. It is as simple as that, so no need to get upset for a -1. –  nico Apr 6 '12 at 18:08
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@Eugene Seidel: Proficuous (a.): Profitable; advantageous; useful. –  nico Apr 7 '12 at 10:47
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@EugeneSeidel That is rude! Pseudonymous porcine? My comment was NOT rude nor factually incorrect. I provided a reason for downvoting your answer, and noted (separately) that there was an alternative answer that correctly responded to the question! –  Feral Oink Apr 8 '12 at 15:57
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Pro tips for you two geniuses: (1) Using adverbs like "clearly" does not accomplish what you think it accomplishes; in fact, it has the opposite effect. (2) Using 13-dollar words like "proficuous" does not make you look well-read; it makes you look like an effete snob. –  Eugene Seidel Apr 8 '12 at 19:48
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