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Punctuation in Texts September 4, 2020

punctuation in text

My children tell me I’m rude, but they’ll forgive me because I’m old.  I’m rude, they say because I insist on punctuation in texts. I agree I’m rude, but I think it’s for other reasons.

These are the same children who will articulate their punctuation when they speak, as in, “Are we going out to dinner tonight question mark?” to make it very clear that they aren’t sure of the answer and it is a question that needs answering, as if the rising tone of voice and verb-subject syntax didn’t clue me in that it was a question.  To emphasize that they are done talking and their position is firm, they will speak the period in their sentences: “I am not going out to dinner.  Period.” Yet when they text, they will not capitalize or use punctuation. 

Apparently this is a thing in Zoomer[1] land.  My daughter explains it like this:

When they say ‘period’ or ‘question mark’ they are purposely emphasizing the period or the question mark.  They are underlining the fact that they have made their point and it is incontrovertible.  Period.   They are highlighting the fact that no one could possibly have known the answer to the question they are asking and they are not the least bit ignorant.  Question mark?

When you are texting, unless you need that emphasis, you don’t need the punctuation.  When I type ‘dont’ it is clear I mean ‘don’t.’  When I end my sentence and hit ‘send’ it is clear that the sentence is finished.  If I start the sentence with a verb then the subject, or with a question word like “Why” or “How” it is obviously a question.  The ending punctuation is unnecessary.  If you put the punctuation there, it is the same as saying it out loud.  It is special emphasis.  It is the same!  As ending!  Every sentence!  With an exclamation point!  OR TYPING IN ALL CAPS.

I disagree, of course.  A sentence looks naked to me without punctuation.  You might as well sing “Twinkle twinkle little star” and end on “what you” and be perfectly satisfied.  It makes my spine tingle.  It’s like buttoning some of your shirt buttons. Could you do a crossword puzzle and finish every clue but one?  (Of course, I’d bet 75% of Zoomers have never done a crossword puzzle on purpose.)   When you type the period, they hear the period.  Actual linguists[2] have done actual studies and concluded that I sound angry when I type a period at the end of my sentences.[3]  Period.

The truth is, that I am angry without them.  Maybe they are strictly unnecessary.  Obviously, I’m done with my thought if I hit “send” and don’t follow it up with anything else.  Maybe my insistence on punctuation is nothing more than a relic, unnecessary formality in casual times.  I’ll admit to being the texting equivalent of wearing a corset and petticoats when leggings and a t-shirt will do.

Why does it matter?  Why does that attention to detail matter to me if it doesn’t matter to the recipient, who is the only other person who is going to see it?  Why does it matter to me if I know that the recipient has a chance of seeing it and misinterpreting it as some act of hostility when it is really just precision?     

Because, standards, dammit.  Standards.  They do matter.  Commas can change the meaning of a sentence.  Court battles have been fought over commas to the tune of millions of dollars.[4]  The more precise our language, the less room for misinterpretation.  The more we say exactly what we mean on purpose, the less likely the person hearing what we’ve said will think we’ve said something else and get their feelings hurt.

If I’ve said it, I meant it, and I stand by it.  Even if I have to apologize for it later.

Full stop. 

[1] A Zoomer, someone from Generation Z, is someone born in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s. 

[2] Cunning ones question mark

[3] http://www.looptonga.com/lifestyle/using-full-stops-messages-makes-you-sound-angry-according-linguists-94280?fbclid=IwAR17r-amGkt0KztIENsoafBQDQMvPvbNc4x_Y_I_m7CiBPV33eNQ9zxE2Ms

[4] https://www.wfft.com/content/national/473665683.html

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Punctuation in Texts


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Punctuation in Texts


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Lori Duff

Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side.  Her latest book, "If You Did What I Asked in the First Place" was awarded the Gold Medal for humor in the Foreword INDIES awards in 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here. If you want Lori to help you market your book, click here.

Punctuation in Texts September 4, 2020