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<xTITLE>Fallacious Argument Of The Month</xTITLE>

Fallacious Argument Of The Month

by Diane J. Levin
September 2009

From Mediation Channel

Diane J. Levin


To contribute to the improvement of public discourse and debate, I feature a different fallacious argument each month.  I kicked off the series in July by spotlighting the straw man, a perennial favorite of lazy minds, and in August discussed the false analogy, including its most popular and persistent form, the Hitler/Nazi comparison.

It is my great pleasure to introduce you to September’s Fallacious Argument of the Month, the misused ellipsis, also known as the fallacy of exclusion and suppressed evidence.

What is an ellipsis? An ellipsis is an omission of words, usually indicated by a series of periods. We use ellipses all the time as a matter of convenience or emphasis — to  shorten text or oral statements when space or time is limited, drawing a reader or listener’s attention to what is relevant to the discussion at hand. When used properly, an ellipsis brings focus  or brevity without sacrificing meaning. But, like a kitchen knife, it can be twisted in service to a darker purpose.

In his satirical classic, Devil’s Dictionary, a work that maliciously mocks hypocrisy and the misuse of language, American author and journalist Ambrose Bierce defined “quotation” as  “[t]he act of repeating erroneously the words of another.” Bierce perhaps had the misused ellipsis in mind; in the hands of a rogue, the ellipsis can turn a speaker’s original meaning on its head. Simply take a quotation, neatly trim away the words that don’t support your argument while leaving in place those that do, and you have embarrassed your opponent and misled your audience. Sadly, the ellipsis, misused, can leave lasting effects; studies from psychology tell us that false statements are notoriously persistent and difficult to counter. Fortunately the misused ellipsis is easy to reveal; one need only consult the original material to reveal the truth.

Years ago when I practiced law, after filing a motion for summary judgment, I received my opponent’s response. To support his opposition to my motion, he quoted from a decision that I was not familiar with. Noticing the ” . . . “  in the middle of the text he quoted, I immediately looked up the case and saw that he had conveniently omitted the critical word “not”.  In that moment, I found myself feeling sorry for his client.

I offer thanks for the inspiration for this month’s Fallacious Argument to that champion of straight talk and clear thinking, David Giacalone, who reminds me of an important piece of advice to leave you with, attributable to the man some call the Great Communicator:

Trust, but verify.

Remember that the next time you find yourself face to face with an ellipsis.


Diane Levin, J.D., is a mediator, dispute resolution trainer, negotiation coach, writer, and lawyer based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who has instructed people from around the world in the art of talking it out. Since 1995 she has helped clients resolve disputes involving tort, employment, business, estate, family, and real property issues, and serves on numerous mediation panels, including the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Training and coaching are an enduring passion -- she has taught thousands of people to resolve conflict, negotiate better, or become mediators -- from Croatian judges to Fortune 500 executives.


A geek at heart, Levin consults on web design and social media to professionals.  She blogs about ADR at the intersection of law, science, and popular culture at the award-winning, regarded as one of the world's top ADR blogs.  She also tracks and catalogues ADR blogs world-wide at, where she has created a community for bloggers writing about constructive ways to resolve disputes.


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