Perhaps it is only an ugly rumor, but you never know. Word is, there is trouble brewing in the land of punctuation.
To be specific, and anyone with any regard for punctuation always is, the lowly period, that faithful end mark at the end of a sentence, is falling from favor.
This disturbing news comes by way of the New Republic. I often read a lot of disturbing things in the New Republic, but this may be the most disturbing of all. It would appear the period is now regarded as a small dot with a big attitude.
Mark Liberman, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, reports that his teenage son told him his text messages were aggressive because he used a period at the end. The young man found his father’s texts not only aggressive, but downright harsh.
Let me tell you about harsh, son. Harsh is Sunday dinner at your grandma’s with 24 first cousins and one indoor bathroom. Harsh is growing up in summers with 105-degree heat, matching humidity and no air conditioning.
Harsh is delivering three babies at the peak of the natural craze and having an Earth momma convince you there was no need for painkillers.
I apologize. I may have gotten a little carried away there. After all this is only about the period, the most basic of punctuation marks among those configurations of dots and curls and squiggly lines that tell you when to breathe, when to pause, when to question, when to change thought lines and, in the whole scheme of things, how big a deal can punctuation really be.
Perhaps it is a generational thing. Years ago, when instant messaging came on the scene, my mother joined in and would instant message with the kids from time to time. They got a chuckle out of the fact that Grandma never ended a conversation without proper form. She’d type a closing (Love), followed by a comma, new line, then “Grandma.” My mother, once a teacher, wouldn’t have dreamed of ending a correspondence any other way.
As one who appreciates form, I must also confess that the young man’s perspective does have merit. I, too, have witnessed a growing streak of aggression in the period — not by its absence, but by its overuse. Usually displayed in the comments section on social media, it often looks like this:
MUST. MAKE. THIS. TODAY.
There’s no denying such use of periods is aggressive bordering on harsh. Such posts are usually seen on Pinterest beneath a picture of cherry pie. Make that a harsh piece of cherry pie.
Too many. Too few. What to do?
Should we go to the other extreme and abandon the lowly end mark, I fear a domino effect.
They scoffed at such theories during the Vietnam War, and there went Cambodia and Laos. It’s the period today, the comma and the semicolon tomorrow.
No matter how you look at it, there’s something terribly unfinished about a sentence without a period
DON’T. QUESTION. ME.
Lori Borgman is an Indianapolis columnist. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.