The ellipse is widening the gap between millennials and baby boomers. here’s why
Imagine that you are playing charades. You draw a card that invites you to mimic a telephone conversation. What shape does your hand take? If you are over 15, you will probably extend your thumb and pinky to create the surfer gesture and raise the symbol up to your ear. If you’re a young teenager or a kid who grew up surrounded by smart devices (rather than flip phones or handsets), you can curl your hand like you’re holding a brick or just stretch your palm out flat before you start. your mimed conversation. You’re probably also wondering, “What are charades?” “
the viral phone challenge stunned TikTok last year, with Millennial and Generation X parents watching in disbelief at their kids grabbing fake iPhones. But this is not the first time that the app has exposed these generational divisions. Users laughed at the Baby Boomers and their penchant for decorative signs encouraging us to “Live, Laugh, Love”. They also chose millennial women as “cheugy” for sporty side parts and cheer along the Friends theme song.
And now the folks at TikTok have targeted older people for one particular grammatical choice: their confusing use.–and abuse–of the ellipse.
“I emailed a teacher to schedule a meeting to review some lessons and he said, ‘Sounds good… then we can meet. I thought he hated me, ”lamented TikTok user @heyanoushka in a viral video last month. “I’m going to spend 10 minutes trying to interpret the tone of this ellipse,” TikToker @megalybrak captioned a montage of e-mails of their manager. So what’s wrong with the ellipse and why is it causing so much intergenerational confusion? We chatted with Gretchen mccolloch, Internet Linguist and author of Because the Internet: understanding the new rules of language, to learn more about beloved Boomer punctuation and how the three dots widen the age gap online.
The ellipse has pre-internet roots
Turns out, people would sprinkle ellipses into their sentences long before Facebook texts and comments even existed.. A look back at the casual written communication of the past – old postcards, cookbooks, and casual notes – allowed McColloch to understand the intended use of punctuation. “When we think of informal pre-internet writing, space was everything. If you send someone a postcard but only have a small box to write on, you won’t be speaking in full sentences, ”she notes. To save space on the page, the writer would chain his thoughts using ellipses and dashes, rather than writing longer formal sentences with periods. You wouldn’t want someone reading your brownie recipe only to find you don’t have space to include baking time or cooling instructions, right?
But we no longer have to worry about running out of space on the recipe card. “It seems that the use of a point-point-point imports an offline standard into an Internet space,” notes McColloch. The Internet lets our words breathe. With the vast digital scope at our disposal, we are free to use as many line breaks as we like in emails or send 20 texts in a group chat. Running out of characters in a tweet? Simply pick up where you left off with a new reply to a tweet (or five). And for this recipe? Write a full essay about your childhood before moving on to the instructions for the perfect two-chocolate brownie.
Why does it seem so foreign to younger people?
So why do dots cause so much drama over the harmless dash or comma? For the younger ones, whose first words to their crush probably fell on Instant Messenger, the ellipse took on a whole new meaning. “For people who primarily use line breaks as a way to separate their thoughts, then the dot-dot-dot is available for another sense, and that other sense is something left unsaid,” McColloch tells us. . For Millennials, the three dots are a one-time bridge to nowhere, signaling hesitation, delay, or, at worst, passive aggression. “I can’t wait to see your presentation…” suggests a sequel the author is thinking of, but won’t actually propose, such as: “… because it’s sure to be a disaster. “
Obviously, letting your reader fill in the blanks does more harm than good. “If you constantly assume that your boss is texting you without saying anything, you’re going to think, ‘Is my boss mad at me? “While your boss is just trying to be informal and relaxed,” says McColloch. The ellipse? Relaxed? We know, it’s hard to believe.
For the elderly, digital communication does not carry all the nuances
While this is incomprehensible to younger generations, McColloch says most older people don’t send digital messages with a tone in mind. “People who use ellipses like that don’t even know that writing on social media is capable of conveying passive aggression and they are certainly not passive aggressive,” she explains. While Millennials are hyperconscious of how their digital communication is viewed (see: making sure our emails have the right exclamation point / exclamation point ratio), this is not always the case for baby boomers, whose messages are more direct.
McColloch tells us that older people think that using an ellipse is just the correct shape when it comes to informal speech. “The imaginary audience for the elderly is not the real people they write to. Their imaginary audience is always their memory of their English teacher in elementary school, ”she notes. For quick exchanges, you wanted your writing to sound like you were talking. According to the “Invisible Grammar,” McColloch says baby boomers always have in mind, the right way to gather informal thoughts is to use ellipses. “The dot-dot-dot tries to be relaxed,” she emphasizes.
When in doubt, communicate too much
As a person of either generation, how can we be more mindful of these communication quirks? Start by being open and accepting all styles of online communication. McColloch tells us to approach these punctuation differences as if we were talking to someone who has a different accent. “It’s not like one of them must be right and the other must be wrong. You don’t need to have just one right answer, but it really helps people to know that this is something a whole bunch of people do on a regular basis, so you know what kind of accent you are communicating with. . in terms of the style of numeric punctuation, ”she explains.
And if you’re not clear on what someone really means in their text or Slack message, ask! “Have these overt meta-conversations,” suggests McColloch. “You can say, ‘When you said that, were you mad at me? “” It’s better to have an honest conversation than to assume that your stepdad or coworker secretly hates you. What if someone is frustrated with you, it is their responsibility to convey their feelings through direct conversation; not via a few points in an email.
This is not the first confusion and it will not be the last
The cool thing about colloquial language? It’s always changing. McColloch reminds us of a time when newcomers to the Internet typed in all caps. Do you remember calling your parents to explain to them that their texts make it seem like they are yelling at everyone? (Remember calling someone about anything, period?) McColloch says it spurred broader cultural conversations, with explainer videos and memes surrounding the caps lock phenomenon. “Now nobody has to do this anymore because people do know that everything in all caps screams, ”she said.
More change on our keyboards is inevitable. The younger generations will usher in new forms of digital language, and we will all try to keep pace. “We don’t want to dwell too much on thinking we’ve found the right way to do things, because we’re just going to be wrong again,” McColloch says. So wait. Before you know it, Generation Alpha (aka the kids of the iPad) will be eager to poke fun at your “main character aesthetic” and that cat sweater you’re ironically wearing.