I Will Not Tolerate Changing Sentence-ending Punctuation—Period


  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
An interesting-for-English-teachers article in today's New York Times talks about the changes in the way people are employing the period at the end of sentences. The change is especially notable in text messages and tweets where the punctuation mark is often dropped completely. Really, if you think about it, why do you need to use a period at the end of a short message? It's clear it's over when the last word is written, making the period redundant. And in a tweet, why waste one of your precious 140 characters? It may not even be useful at the end of a paragraph

The article points out something else I find far more interesting: that choosing to use an optional period can actually change the tone of the sentence, adding the sense that the writer is annoyed, a distinction completely lost on an old grammarian like me
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
As I've written in earlier posts, I'm not a card carrying member of the Language Police. I don't think linguistic variations from accepted usage are necessarily errors, let alone signs of the crumbling of civilization. Likewise, I don't think changes in the way people talk and write are indications of the deterioration of communication. Take "up talking," that tendency, which I find annoying, of making the ends of statements sound like questions. Linguistic scholars who have looked carefully at the nuances of "up talking" have found there are at least six different connotations of meaning, depending on the sound and the context. In other words, it's a far more sophisticated method of communication than my old ears can decipher. Or take "Dude!" As was brilliantly laid out in a standup routine a few years ago, that one word statement can have numerous, very different meanings depending on the tone and context in which it's delivered

So, long live the dropped period. Or if it has a short life, that's OK too

When I'm confronted by changes that seem to me like degradations of language, I always try to remember that old literary cretin, William Shakespeare. He didn't use anything like the punctuation we consider essential to civilized communication. I've also read he spelled his own name at least six different ways. What an idiot! Didnt he lern nothin in skul?

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