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. . . About Those Ellipses  . .

I
n "Lapsing Into a Comma," I caution against beginning or ending a quotation with ellipses: "It's silly to indicate omission at the beginning or end of a quote, since virtually all quotes are from people who have spoken before in their lives and will do so again." Now, then, a case study. You're a copy editor, and you're editing a story that contains the following paragraph:
"I really don't think it's a good idea," he said. ". . . And I'm not going to support any such move."
Do you kill the ellipses? I hope you don't. The "And I'm not" part is not the beginning of a quote; the "I really don't think" part is. If you delete the ellipses, you imply that the following sequence was uttered:
"I really don't think it's a good idea. And I'm not going to support any such move."
A no-ellipses version of the initial example is exactly how most reporters would render the above quote. That's how we write. We often — usually — put the attribution for a multiple-sentence quote after the first sentence. What the reporter was indicating with the ellipses, unless this reporter just likes to decorate copy with dots, is that something more like this was said:
"I really don't think it's a good idea. I just don't. And I'm not going to support any such move."
Think about it: If we kill the ellipses, how is a reader to tell whether the two sets of quote marks indicate two discrete quotations or simply the standard attribution placement for a multiple-sentence quote? To put it another way, two quotes should not share one attribution. If the ellipses look silly to you (and I admit that they look less than elegant), there are other options:
"I really don't think it's a good idea," he said. He added: "And I'm not going to support any such move."
Or:
"I really don't think it's a good idea," he said. "And I'm not going to support any such move," he added.
Better yet, present the quote intact. I'm not quite as anti-dot-dot-dot as my friend Merrill Perlman of the New York Times, who has called ellipses and bracketed insertions in quotes "dishonest," but I'm pretty darn close. Unless the stuff between the salient statements was completely irrelevant gibberish, it's usually better to let it stand.




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