Periods may be coming to a full stop.
While older texters may consider the period an innocent symbol that a sentence has ended, digital natives now consider it a triggering form of aggression. The punctuation problem ignited over social media recently, with Gen Z and millennials agreeing that ending a sentence with a period is overly hostile, and, worse yet, extremely uncool.
“Only old people or troubled souls put periods at the end of every sentence,” wrote digital culture journalist Victoria Turk in her book on digital etiquette, “Kill Reply All.”
The younger generations consider the act of sending a text a sufficient signifier of a complete thought, Turk wrote, making periods feel unnecessary and overly final.
“The thing is, in a messaging conversation, a period is simply not necessary,” she explained. “It’s clear when you’ve finished your thought already, so what function does the period fulfill? As a result, using a period in messaging now looks rather emphatic, and can come across as if you’re quite cross or annoyed.”
The difference between a text saying, “That’s funny,” and “That’s funny.” may seem subtle to the sender, but many readers will interpret the latter to be far less pleasant and more intense, needlessly.
Social media piled onto the sentiment, thanks to Guardian columnist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett.
“Older people — do you realize that ending a sentence with a full stop comes across as sort of abrupt and unfriendly to younger people in an email/chat? Genuinely curious,” she asked in a since-deleted tweet.
Although the tweet was met with cries of ageism, her argument has a point: In a 2015 study of 126 undergraduates, researchers at Binghamton University found that texts containing periods were also perceived as insincere.
“Texting is lacking many of the social cues used in actual face-to-face conversations. When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses, and so on,” said lead researcher Celia Klin in a statement at the time the study was released. “People obviously can’t use these mechanisms when they are texting. Thus, it makes sense that texters rely on what they have available to them — emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and, according to our data, punctuation.”
The period’s new, aggressive interpretation can also be used purposefully, for comedic effect.
“While periods at the end of sentences might be on a downward slope, they can find themselves redistributed elsewhere, where they can be placed very deliberately in order to add emphasis,” Turk wrote. This includes putting a period between every word, as in the example she gives: “Just. Look. How. Emphatic. This. Is.”
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