Getting the final word: When punctuation turns emotional

By Sara Richardson   |   September 23, 2015

 

We all like to poke fun at those little lapses of punctuation that float around the Internet, and when better than National Punctuation Day on September 24th to bring these gems up? You know the ones: “Egg’s 5¢,” “Caution: ‘Wet’ floor,” “Smile your on camera,” “Please ‘do not’ disturb.” Everyone likes to cringe and point, but it takes a punctuation nut to get truly emotional about it—the grammarians, the English professors, all those writers, editors and proofreaders…

Except now it turns out other people are getting all emotional about punctuation as well. What’s got people seeing red? Why, the humble period.

But wait! How could a period be upsetting? Where pushy question marks demand a response, over-energetic exclamation marks stir things up, and the indecisive ellipses leave us hanging, the period simply ends that sentence and allows us to move on. No one gets upset about periods. They just are. And they’re everywhere.

But in recent years, that cute little dot has taken on a new meaning in the world of texts and instant messages, as pointed out by New Republic and others.

In a communication style where the exchanges are often informal and brief—rarely more than a line or two long—periods have become harder and harder to find, except in sets of three. They’re dropping off the ends of sentences left and right, leaving a more casual connotation, an open-endedness that invites a rapid-fire response in keeping with the back-and-forth of the conversational genre.

So when a solo period does find its way onto the end of a sentence… Well. That’s not open-ended at all. That’s downright finite in a way that increasingly signals anger on the part of the person wielding the full stop. Not only is this sentence over, the period seems to grumble, but so is the conversation—we’re done here. If a period had arms, they’d be crossed over its chest.

I would have found it hard to believe that a punctuation mark as innocuous as the period would become a display of irritation, but I’ve seen it in action. Just a few months ago, as I finished a series of texts with a friend, we wrapped up like this:

Me: So are we on for tomorrow?

Her: You bet—see you around 10

Me: Sounds good. Night.

Her: Is everything okay

Me: Yes…?

Her: …You sound upset?

Our conversation continued, and I learned a valuable text lesson from our chat—apparently, one cannot end a text exchange with “Night.” without sounding angry, even if it is close to midnight. It was news to me, and it got me thinking.

On the one hand, I am one of those punctuation nuts who add apostrophes to their texts and who typically compose whole paragraphs of prose in a single volley—with the hard returns between them. But I am also the guilty sender of many a “yep.”—with the period, alas.

It turns out that when I’m in verbose mode, sending texts that require a thorough scrolling to read top to bottom, it doesn’t matter that I’ve added so much punctuation. I’m simply abusing the text format to compose an email in the wrong medium. The recipient (though probably not thrilled) assumes that all the longer-form rules of communication apply, and therefore doesn’t think I’m angry when the last thing on the screen is a period.

But in rapid-fire mode? When it’s just a few words, a single line, a single thought? Like it or not, most of the recipients on my contact list will appreciate a little less closure. Despite this, I find it difficult to just hack off the punctuation entirely, and a 🙂  just doesn’t do the trick.

So I’ve adjusted my texting into a compromise that soothes my inner grammarian but doesn’t send all the wrong signals to my period-averse texting audience. If the period has been corrupted into a symbol of a sender’s ire, I don’t feel so bad bringing in a new punctuation mark to take its place—after all, in the world of texting and instant messaging, is anything actually set in stone?

So behold: the tilde! My new go-to texting punctuation~

This cheerful, singsong squiggle seems to reassure people that I might be signing off for the night, but everything’s happy on my end. And it appears to be working—at the very least, no one has asked me if I’m mad at them since I started using it.

So I suppose this is goodbye, sweet period. Long live the tilde~

by Sara Richardson

 

About the Author

Sara has a background in writing, a love for grammar, and a passion for technology. She stresses attention to detail and adherence to standard language usage, with an emphasis on clarity while observing an assortment of client styles.

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