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A cry for {hellip}

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April August 4, 2008 11:30 PM

Iíve been out of town (thatís part of the reason for the yawning silence here), so I read this weekís Word column, by the redoubtable Erin McKean, on the boston.com website just now. And one line gave me a momentís pause:

Someone, somewhere, is using [words like funner] with a disclaimer like "I know it's not a real word {hellip}"

If you read the print version, you didnít see that {hellip} -- you saw (I hope) three dots, or ellipsis points . . . like these. I assume the {hellip} is code for ellipses, but with some crucial bit missing, so that what appears on screen is not the expected punctuation, but the command itself. It happens; just Google "hellip" for other examples, some in earlier Word columns.

There were two especially funny things about this hellip, though. First, that the phrase "not a real word" was followed by . . . a truly not-real word. Second, that the not-word fit the sentence so well: I took it, at first, as a mistyped "help!" -- the writerís plea for indulgence in this use of a non-real word.

Iím not much of a neologizer -- with the dictionaries full of words I donít know, Iím in no rush to coin new ones -- but in this case Iím tempted. Wouldnít {hellip} -- or even hellip, without the curly brackets -- work nicely as slang for "Iíve just exceeded the limits of my knowledge, everything I say from here on will be just guesswork"? I for one would make good use of such a shorthand expression.

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Rules and realities of English usage from Boston Globe Ideas columnist Jan Freeman.
Jan Freeman, a former Boston Globe editor, has been writing the weekly column ďThe WordĒ since 1997. E-mail her at freeman@globe.com.
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