The evolution of the period.

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

And this:

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 message with periods were rated as less sincere, the study found, whereas it made no difference in the notes penned by hand

Here is the full Dan Bilefsky story (NYT).



Or should that be really?

That was painful.

I felt the pain at the end of every 'graph too.

What about the full stop?

What's the point?

The point is to make a point.

Yesterday David Frum had an essay in The Atlantic about his late friend Christopher Hitchens. As Frum repeatedly reminded readers, Hitchens was known for his skill as a debater. But Hitchens was also an artist, his canvas the written word: every sentence is a masterpiece, the words placed in the sentence as only an artist could do it. I describe Hitchens' writing style as backwards. No, I don't mean the passive voice. My best friend has a similar writing style, which he says is the result of him having spent several years in Japan. According to my friend, in Japanese the action words are the subject in the sentence; hence, the sentences are backwards. I came of age in a different era, an era when clarity in writing was considered a holy enterprise, when every college student carried around a well-worn copy of The Elements of Style. Of course, that era didn't simply come into being on its own but was in response to those who would use words to mislead. I fear we are entering into another of those eras, when words are used to mislead, not for clarity but obfuscation. But this time the risk may be greater as appreciation for words, for writing, is being undermined by texting, by sentence fragments, by symbols used as substitutes for words. I miss Hitchens, not so much for what he would say but how he would say it and, more importantly, how he would write it.

One might say modern communication is an epic fail (ure) :-)

You do realize C Hitchens dissed M Theresa and is going straight to hell!?

You never can tell. One may go to heaven or one may go to Hell.

I doubt that Mother Teresa gave a dam about the useless garbage he so-well wrote.

Hell is other people.

Is going? Where is he now?

In transit. Contrary to popular opinion, it is a long way from Texas to Hell. However, I have been to some neighborhoods in Rio where it is a local call matter.

Naturally the texting phenomenon would produce a different style of communication. But that change is secondary to those in oral communication. The spoken vocabulary has shrunken over the years. It looks like human speech is devolving to a mixture of grunts, squeals and shrugs similar to those found in a troop of baboons.

yes, communication norms evolve with subjective cultural perceptions and fashions.

Regarding current American oral communication fashions, one of the most surprising is how the regional 1970's California 'Valley-Girl' speech mode & 'Up-Speak' took hold across the nation and strongly endure. It's so common now among females (even well educated professional women) that it is unnoticed as a significant change. 'Up-Speak' is especially commonplace now.

Up-speak is an interesting phenomenon, as the intent of it is to create doubt as to what the speaker means (the "up-speak" converts what is a statement into a question). It's the opposite of clarity in communication. Something I've noticed among highly educated women is the absence of an accent, which I would notice since I'm southern with a definite accent. Not only do they speak without an accent (where are they from?) but they speak in a monotone (sometimes with "up-speak" at the end). I understand that accents can be associated with intelligence (or lack thereof) and that speaking in a flat voice can hide the accent. My friend, a doctor, speaks that way. She is originally from Kentucky and let me in on her secret by speaking in her "native" voice. That was a shocker.

Rayward, please don't comment on my post again. thank you.

Some might believe that when one leaves a public comment in a public forum, he doesn't get to pick who responds to him.

You're oh so polite.

Yeah, one would think, but the guy has standards.

I apologize if I offended. I thought you made an interesting point so I commented. I won't do it again.

Erwin3, please don't comment anywhere on my internet again. thank you.


Disregard the nasty 2nd post here with the from "Erwin3" name -- your response to my original/authentic Erwin3 comment was good.

Some troll here must not like you-- and impersonated me.

I couldn't find the original article I had in mind, which was a linguist's investigation into the origins of up-speak (apparently it developed independently and concurrently in the US and Australia), but this article is interesting, too: Reader comments from all over the world on how up-speak is used in their native languages and why.

The first time I noticed up-speak was in my upper-level college English classes which were dominated by women. Nobody made declarations or statements; everything was a suggestion or a proposal for consideration. It was a very timid method of discourse and I didn't like it. I would also get emails from professors saying they received complaints that I was too aggressive and dominating during class discussions, which if you knew me you would know is hilarious. Maybe in an increasingly diverse and globalized world, where different backgrounds and cultures are intermixing in school and the workplace, up-speak is a tool for conflict-avoidance and group cohesion? That was me up-speaking. I don't really know.

It might seem a small quibble, but I would argue that neither is secondary to the other. Reading informs our speech, and a significant percentage of the spoken words we hear were written with oral delivery in mind. People quote and imitate, and their use of language is tailored to the standards of their peers and their audience. One is reminded of that Conan O'Brien bit: What is the national language of the United States? —Third grade English.


Glad that someone else caught onto that.

We might be able to save a few microseconds here and there with some carefully thought out modifications of language, but the risk of descending into "a mixture of grunts, squeals and shrugs similar to those found in a troop of baboons", as you put it, should definitely be kept in mind.

Good song writers calibrate the amount of lacking subject-verb agreement it takes to communicate sincerity. It don't take much, just the right amount will do.

>It don’t take much, just the right amount will do.

That's a run-on sentence.

I think it's a comma splice.

Shoulda used a semicolon?

Welcome to ten years ago? This has been common vernacular in chat and txt speak for a while.


What a semantic evolution.

punctuation coming out their wherever

After reading the title, I now have an unsatisfied curiosity about the evolution of menstruation.

That took a lot longer than I thought it would.

Elaine goes nuts trying to analyze her boyfriend’s one word text. “You can’t send the letter K with a period! A period is too aggressive!"

Next I would like to see Professor Crystal address the comma and its misuse - ahem - where a semicolon or period is required. Ahem.

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