Introduction to Herb Caen’s three-dot lounge

Herb Caen at his office, Dec. 31, 1993/Nancy Wong

Anything following an ellipsis is a friend of mine for the night. It’s code for ‘you didn’t hear it from me, but. … ‘”

—  Mark Pargas, “A Visit to the Three-Dot Lounge”

It’s been over 20 years since famed San Francisco journalist Herb Caen (1916-1997) died. For journalists and San Franciscans, Caen was a superstar. Known as “Mr. San Francisco,” his columns were a vital piece in the mosaic of one of the world’s great cities.

Caen wrote a column six days a week from July 5, 1938 until 1991 when he cut back to five days a week, then three, before dying in 1997 at age 80. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for lifetime achievement. A special Herb Caen day in The City in 1996 drew 75,000 enthusiastic fans to honor him at City Hall.

Mr. San Francisco was a master of what came to be called “Three-Dot Journalism.” He threw everything from one-liners, gossip, anecdotes and information into this format that became a journalistic staple in the 1930s and 1940s.

In a 1985 column, Caen explained the three-dot phenomenon this way:

“Short items, a few scooplets, a good one-liner or two, that’s what my kind of column is made of, and as my tribute to Mr. Winchell, I hope to keep three-dot journalism alive in a business that considers it hopelessly out of date. Hell, so am I, dot-dot-dot. You won’t find many young journalists writing three-dot columns these days. For one thing, it’s too much work.”

Probably the most iconic American columnist of all time was San Francisco’s Herb Caen,” said Reno public relations mogul Harry Spencer in his weekly Sparks Tribune column in December 2015. “He is widely credited with developing a journalistic style that became known as Three Dot Journalism. In essence, he set the bar for columnists around the country.

“I was fortunate enough to interface with Herb on many occasions during my time at The Mapes and at Clint Eastwood Celebrity Tennis at Lake Tahoe. I was also fortunate enough to play tennis with him at the San Francisco Tennis Club,”Spencer said.

“His daily column in the Chronicle was a two-column full-page series of separate paragraphs, each one in a different type face with some of them bold faced that tended to make it a quick and easy read.

“It was often said that a single mention in Caen’s column was worth more than a full-page ad in the paper. Caen’s forte was to take a fairly innocuous item and give it his particular comedic touch. He also liked to subhed some of the paragraphs with terms like ‘pocket-full of wry.’”

Amen to that. For today’s example, we had a lot of loose strings to tie in, so decided to pay tribute to Caen and three-dot line No biggy, just the way we’re rolling this week.


Unfortunately, we’re out of space, so it will have to wait for another time.

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