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RE: Ellipsis

At 12:03 PM +0000 8/12/98, Roger Jones wrote:
>At 11:26 07/12/98 -0800, Steve Pendleton wrote:
>>An ellipsis and a period often occur together.
>>The difference in spacing makes it possible
>>for the reader to distinguish between them.
>>"Ellipsis-period" differs from "period-ellipsis."
>>It isn't a question of liking or disliking the look.
>>The purpose is to preserve a nuance otherwise
>An ellipsis constructed with non-breaking spaces is highly likely to be
>spaced distinctively in justified copy because the non-breaking spaces
>don't vary in width and are not adjusted as normal inter-word spaces are.
>Another trick would be to use thins or double thins (more likely because of
>the excessive thin-ness of the FrameMaker thin space). As for liking and
>disliking, more than one person of my acquaintance has commented that the
>single-character condensed ellipsis is one of those items that characterize
>amateur typesetting, just as straight quotes and double spaces after
>periods do; indeed, they often travel together. I don't recall seeing the
>condensed ellipsis before the advent of DTP.
>For what it's worth, my old edition of Hart's Rules for Compositors and
>Readers (Oxford University Press) says: "To mark omitted words three points
>. . . (not asterisks) separated by normal space of line are sufficient. [.
>. .] When three points are used at the end of an incomplete sentence a
>fourth point should not be added; normal space of line should precede the
>first full point. But where the sentence is complete, the closing point is
>set close up, followed by three points for omission." (For "space of line"
>read "word spacing".)
>Ah, what joy in minutiae! (minutiŠ for those who will receive "special"
>characters without interference by list servers or their own e-mailer)

Several things here require comment.  It is true that punctuation has a
rather inflexible set of rules, however, the conventions for setting type,
with which they inexorably intertwined, are rather more an aesthetic and to
some degree flexible.  Hence the single space/double space debate, and the
"word", "word," variations.  And there are others.  As concerns the
ellipsis, however, there is some misinformation masquerading as an
assumption here.

If it's true, as Roger states, that "more than one person of my
acquaintance has commented that the single-character condensed ellipsis is
one of those items that characterize amateur typesetting", then those
acquaintances have not really looked very closely and really don't know
whereof they speak.  I can't imagine what they are thinking about.  The
fact is that the ellipsis character is in no way condensed in
proportionally spaced type.  In fact the converse is true!  In proportional
type there is no restriction on the x-dimension of any glyph and the
ellipsis character in well crafted type has a spacing that is preferable to
the "three periods" approach.  In fact the three periods are the more
compressed (and ugly looking) configuration.  And whether kerning is on or
off makes no difference!  It takes the insertion of a thin space between
each period to produce the same spacing as the much ballyhooed "condensed
ellipsis character" spacing. So you lose time making that construction with
nothing gained in the process.

If, however, you look at a fixed width type, then the situation reverses.
You have to jam three periods in a fixed width that is normally occupied by
one character, and the ellipsis does indeed look very jammed up; a squat,
anally retentive looking thing that gives no sense of the pause or excision
it is intended to convey.  On the other hand, the "three periods" apporach
looks equally bad; anemic with gaping spaces that don't hold your eye.  In
combination with a period to end a sentence it's a visual disaster.  No
trouble to see why designers made proportional type so early in the game.

When using the ellipsis character, the question of amateur or professional
doesn't enter into it.  This sounds like some kind of misplaced snobbery
from old typesetters. (Not to suggest that any person with computer can set
good type - they certainly cant, but to pick on the ellipsis is to grasp at
straws.)   Just because a typesetter using metal type may not have had an
ellipsis "character" doesn't mean that he was restricted to a fixed
ellipsis.  He could shim the type to look the way he wanted it.  It just
took much longer to do.

Should anyone doubt the veracity of the above, I'll send you a PDF that
illustrates this with a clear example.  It's a magnified screen shot so you
will all see the same thing no matter what platform you're on.  You should
blow it up to 200% to get the best view.  Difficult to resist the
temptation to send the attachment to the list, but I won't do it.  If you
want to see it, let me know and I'll send you a copy.

- web

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