The period is being deployed as a weapon to show irony, syntactic snark, insincerity, even aggression.
If the love of your life just canceled the candlelit, six-course, home-cooked dinner you have prepared, you are best advised to include a period when you respond ‘Fine’.
How often do we use the ‘full-stop’ in our sentences?
Especially in a text or facebook status update? Think back…
The full-stop, also known as the period that we learnt as children in English Class and whose use stretches way back to the Middle Ages, is gradually disappearing in a generation of instant messaging and digital age. One of the oldest forms of punctuation may be dying.
The conspicuous removal of the period in text messages and in instant messaging on social media, is a product of the punctuation-free staccato sentences favoured by millennials — and increasingly their elders — a trend fueled by the freewheeling style of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
“We are at a momentous moment in the history of the full stop,” Professor David Crystal, an honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor, said in an interview after he expounded on his view recently at the Hay Festival in Wales.
“In an instant message, it is pretty obvious a sentence has come to an end, and none will have a full stop,” he added “So why use it?”
In fact, the understated period — the punctuation equivalent of stagehands who dress in black to be less conspicuous — may have suddenly taken on meanings all its own.
Increasingly, says Professor Crystal, whose books include
“Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation,” the period is being deployed as a weapon to show irony, syntactic snark, insincerity, even aggression.
If the love of your life just canceled the candlelit, six-course, home-cooked dinner you have prepared, you are best advised to include a period when you respond “Fine.” to show annoyance.
“Fine” or “Fine!” in contrast, could denote acquiescence or blithe acceptance.
“The period now has an emotional charge and has become an emoticon of sorts,” Professor Crystal said, “In the 1990s, the internet created an ethos of linguistic free love where breaking the rules was encouraged and punctuation was one of the ways this could be done.”
Social media sites have only intensified that sense of liberation. Professor Crystal’s observations on the fate of the period are driven in part by frequent visits to high schools across Britain, where he analyzes students’ text messages.
Researchers at Binghamton University in New York and Rutgers University in New Jersey have also recently noted the period’s new semantic force.
They asked 126 undergraduate students to review 16 exchanges, some in text messages, some in handwritten notes that had one-word affirmative responses (Okay, Sure, Yeah, Yup). Some had periods, while others did not.
Those text messages with periods were rated as less sincere, the study found, whereas it made no difference in the notes penned by hand.
Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, noted that the 140-character limit imposed by Twitter and the reading of messages on a cellphone or hand-held device has repurposed the
“It is not necessary to use a period in a text message, so to make something explicit that is already implicit makes a point of it,” he said,“It’s like when you say, ‘I am not
going – period’, it’s a mark, it can be aggressive, it can be emphatic, it can mean, ‘I have no more to say’.
Can ardent fans of punctuation take heart in any part of the period’s decline? Perhaps.
The shunning of the period, Professor Crystal said, has paradoxically been accompanied by spasms of over-punctuation.
“If someone texts, ‘Are you coming to the party?’ the response,” he noted, was increasingly, “Yes, fantastic!!!!!!!!!!!”
But, of course, that exuberance would never be tolerated in a classroom.
At the same time, he said he found that British teenagers were increasingly eschewing emoticons and abbreviations such as “LOL” (laughing out loud) or “ROTF” (rolling on the floor) in text messages because they had been adopted by their parents and were therefore considered ‘uncool’.
Now all we need to know is, what’s next to go? The question mark?