Have you… ever found..that William Shatner’s Capt. Kirk, talked in a way…that made you both, intrigued, and frustrated? Yeah, there’s a reason for that: aposiopesis, the intentional breaking off of a sentence. While Shatner was using an acting technique involving intentional pausing; while that is not quite aposiopesis, the effects were similar and deliberate enough. I’ve found several ways that people use aposiopesis every day, whether the intent is to make anticipation, break anticipation, or just to avoid an exhausted platitude.
Try listening to a sports announcer in the middle of a big play. “Stevens got the ball…he shoots…stolen by Jacobs…pass back to Williams…shoots…rebound by Stevens”. Their job is a great one. They utilize aposiopesis in order to generate anticipation and they do it well. They break up their sentences into a reaction all intending to build into a great moment. If you really pay attention though, many of these sentences never lead anywhere, but that is the nature of sports. More often than not, you’ll find these used in common inside jokes. Two people that have created an inside joke don’t need to restate the entirety of a joke, only part. Seems a bit lame to break down ‘inside jokes’, but often times, “that’s how the cookie…”
If you’re not making anticipation, you make be breaking it. Aposiopesis used to break anticipation is an excessively overplayed trope. Any death scene involving talking comes to mind. Watch the movie Saving Private Ryan. At one point a man gets shots and attempts to gives Pvt. Ryan a letter intent for the dying man’s family. The audience knows the guy is going to die, but here we are waiting for the mid-sentence break to signify the man has actually died. It has become overplayed so much, that the scene has been made into a joke. In any case, aposiopesis breaks the anticipation, giving the audience exactly what they were expecting would happen either as a comedic break or a dramatic one.
[Warning graphic content]
Sometimes aposiopesis is used to avoid exhaustive platitudes. Within the right context any of these short lines work to show this: “Give a man a fish…”, “One in the hand…”, “don’t count your chickens…”, “No good deed…”, “You gotta do…”, “good things come…”, “squeaky wheel…”, “rolling stone…”, “Better late…”, etc, etc, etc. When someone uses aposiopesis in this fashion, it’s almost always used after-the-fact almost used as “I told you so”. The few times aposiopesis is used before an action, it is a rhetorical device that is meant to convey a seemingly obvious point. Either way, it’s the most condescending way to utilize aposiopesis. Please try to use this sparingly.
For whatever purpose you wish to break your sentence, know it is…
Nah, I won’t do that to you. Use aposiopesis however you wish. Just know that your audience picks up on the rising action of your words. Your choice is to either give them what they want, make a joke, or argue the obvious point. Really, the options are…