Alison Flood reports in the Guardian about an exciting discovery (for those of us who find punctuation exciting):
Dr Anne Toner believes she has identified the earliest use of the ellipsis in English drama, pinning it down to a 1588 edition of the Roman dramatist Terence’s play, Andria, which had been translated into English by Maurice Kyffin and printed by Thomas East, and in which hyphens, rather than dots, mark incomplete utterances by the play’s characters.
Although there are instances of ellipses occurring in letters around the same time, this is the earliest printed version found by Toner following her chronological research into the earliest dramas in print.
“This was a brilliant innovation,” she writes in Ellipsis in English Literature: Signs of Omission, a history of the use of dots, dashes and asterisks to mark a silence of some kind, which has just been published by Cambridge University Press. […]
“It’s interesting to think about whose idea it was to use what turned out to be a very useful resource … was it the translator of the Terence play, or the printer? Who the agent was behind the mark is very unclear,” Toner said. “But you then start to see it being used relatively quickly in dramatic works … in Ben Jonson plays, for example.”
It also appears in Shakespeare. Toner writes of Henry IV, Part I, that “Hotspur dies on a dash”, with his last words cut short: “no, Percy, thou art dust / And food for–”
By the 18th century, said Toner, it “becomes very common in print, and blanking starts to be used as a means of avoiding libel laws”, with series of dots starting to be seen in English works, as well as hyphens and dashes, to mark an ellipsis.
There are some nice images of the books in question at the link.
Also, congratulations to Arika Okrent, winner of the LSA Linguistics Journalism Award!