Punctuation is Important – Let’s Decriminalize the Period.

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I can deal with political correctness in a lot of forms. I have (what I believe to be) a highly-developed emotional intelligence, born out of natural empathy and over a decade of working as a REALTOR® (we work with all types of people in emotional situations — EQ is a must!).

But this I have no patience for. Punctuation is important — and that includes the period. Full stop.

Apparently, the period is now viewed as the epitome of texting rudeness, and I refuse to accept it. I know this isn’t a new story — the earliest article I have found accusing the period of rudeness (well, not the period itself, but those who have the gall to use it in text messages) is from 2013 (though WIRED published an article in 2011 called, “Secret Meanings of Text Message Punctuation” — why? Why does punctuation need to be assigned secret meanings when it already has, you know, actual meanings of which we are already all aware…?). This, to me, is political correctness at its most ludicrous and unbelievable: we now must evaluate whether or not the recipients of our text messages are going to take offense by reading into our texts a secret meaning, a maliciousness, rudeness, or a certain attitude, simple if, by good grammar alone, we include the sweet, innocent little period. We can all agree that texting, in and of itself, can be a bit difficult to navigate. When in doubt, people make a phone call.

However, to make it even more ridiculous, the use of correct punctuation is assigned nefarious undertones. I say, simply: NO.

If all of this is news to you, let me break it down for you: apparently, at some point in recent years, someone, somewhere, felt that, upon receiving a text from another someone that included a declarative sentence that ended in a period, that there was a slight possibility that that sentence had a hidden meaning. That it was a tone the first someone wasn’t expecting and didn’t appreciate. That the original “someone,” the text-sender, was copping an attitude, sending passive-aggressive signals, or being rude. As is often the case with extreme political correctness in any form, one person got offended, told all their friends, and now the period has been criminalized (when, really, don’t we have much more important things to worry about in our world today?). However, a declarative sentence is just that — it’s a sentence that makes a statement and ends in a period. The only appropriate punctuation to end a declarative sentence is, well, a period. (Period.)

very informal Facebook poll on the subject revealed that, among my friends running the gamut from Millennial to Boomer, the responses were mixed. Okay, you can guess who was mostly in the camp of “periods are rude” (that sentence made me giggle — ladies, you’ll understand why!) — yes, my Millennial friends, it was you, which makes sense, to a degree. One of you gave an intriguing example:

Me: Can you go to the store on your way home?
Husband: sure!

Me: Can you go to the store on your way home?
Husband: sure

Me: Can you go to the store on your way home?
Husband: sure.

(We won’t begin to discuss Husband’s lack of capitalization — I’m a grammar fiend, but let’s keep this to one topic at a time.)

To me, the first example appears to convey that the Husband is really excited (!) about going to the store. [NOTE: More about excessive exclamation point usage in Gmail’s smart replies, here.] Maybe this gives him the freedom to purchase what he wants (hooray!), or maybe he just really loves grocery shopping or really loves any opportunity to make his wife’s life easier (awww…). The third example, in my opinion, is just a declarative, “Sure.” As in, “I will absolutely stop at the store on the way home (and I know this sentence should end in a period).”

Let’s compare the second and third examples: Is #2 really nicer than #3? Does #3 really convey a passive-aggressive undertone, as in, “Sure. Yeah, I guess, if you’re too lazy to go yourself ” or “Sure. Happy to (but not really).”

While it is true that “[t]exting removes the vocal cues we once used to overanalyze” tone, [1] shouldn’t we also ask ourselves if we’ve just become a little too oversensitive or if the medium of text has made us just plain lazy? (I’m not sure which is worse, thinking we’ve become oversensitive or lazy, though laziness may be inching ahead in my estimation. I’m looking at you, abbreviations such as BRB, TTYL, u and ur, and other misspellings that really irk me.) Ben Crair pointed out in his 2013 article for the New Republic, “In most written language, the period is a neutral way to mark a pause or complete a thought; but digital communications are turning it into something more aggressive.” [2] The poor period — just hanging out, trying to be neutral (and useful), and here we are with our newfangled digital communication, turning it into something it’s not.

An article from MarketWatch proclaimed, “We’ve agreed that putting a period after a one-word response in a text conveys something like abruptness, annoyance, negativity.” [3] First, I’d like someone to please identify the “we” in this sentence (okay, fine, I know it’s you, Millennials, but why?), but second, and more importantly, I’d like to offer up the following argument: I’d like to counter that the lack of a period, even at the end of a one-word sentence, conveys abruptness or annoyance, as in, “I don’t even have the time to finish my response to you with correct punctuation, that’s how little I think of you!” It takes me just a wee bit of extra time to finish my sentence correctly, to show that you are worthy of my Punctuational Correctness (see what I did there?) and that I am invested in our conversation enough to complete my sentence. Still, my omission signals that you don’t rate high enough on my list of important people to command correct punctuation.

Perhaps that’s a little too dramatic, but I have a serious problem with the degradation and deterioration of the English language in our increasingly technological society. The Queen’s English Society in the U.K. closed after 40 years of working to protect the English language (proving the problem isn’t just American). Kids aren’t learning cursive in school (several states have begun passing laws to bring it back, thank goodness, but we have a long way to go to reverse the damage of the early 2000s). A lack of correct punctuation spills over from our text messages into our other communication — emails, job applications, and other professional communications. I recently saw an application for a volunteer position at a REALTOR® Association that contained no capital letters, no punctuation, a lack of complete sentences, and a blatant disregard for the English language Yet, this person was applying for an executive position on the Board of Directors. Posts on social media are often confusing and difficult to discern due to misspellings, punctuation mistakes, and grammar abominations. (I find it hard to “like” a meme, even if I find it funny or entertaining because I simply cannot “like” the abysmal grammar and spelling.)

Does this make me sound elitist? Maybe (that’s not my aim, but maybe). Does my lack of flexibility with the informal texting medium make me seem too serious, lacking a sense of humor? Perhaps. And I am just fine with that.

Sadly, when researching for this post, I came up with dozens of results for the Google search “using a period in a text is rude,” but to the query of “using a period in a text is not rude,” scant few. Sometimes, however, one is all you need. In answer to the question, “what do we do about it?” Nico Lang writes for The Daily Dot, “Killing punctuation won’t remedy the situation; we need to say what’s on our minds and communicate more effectively.” In simpler terms, he wrote, “if you don’t want to come off like a jerk in your text messages, don’t be a jerk… Trust me—the problem isn’t that our periods are making us assholes but that we sound rude all on our own.” [4] It sounds like sage advice to me (“don’t be a jerk”); it also sounds like pure common sense. He goes on to discuss that because old-school phones limited our character count and old-school phone service plans charged by the text, brevity was more of a necessity than a convenience (hence, I suppose, BRB, TTYL, and the like); we understood more readily if you left out a period if you were just simply out of characters to us (painful as that omission may have been to some of us). Now, however, the need to save characters is gone, and pay-by-the-text plans are virtually non-existent, so brevity in these forms comes across as lazy. Time-saving is not a valid excuse. (With the reading of this sentence, I venture to say Mr. Lang is my people: “[C]utting periods is a lot like texting “tonite” instead of “tonight,” something that might get you back 0.1 seconds of your life but isn’t all that helpful when you get down to it.” Thank you, Nico Lang.)

“Killing punctuation won’t remedy the situation; what we need is to say what’s on our minds and communicate more effectively.”
~ Nico Lang for “The Daily Dot”

So What Do We Do?

I ask you this, then: how do we decriminalize the period? How do we offer the humble full stop a reprieve from being misunderstood, bring it back to neutral, and let it just be useful again in all communication? Can we please return to a time when our attitude and tone would convey if we were being rude rather than using innocent punctuation? Could we agree that if I’m upset with you or being rude to you, you’ll know it, and it’ll be much more obvious to you than whether or not I insert a period?

If we cannot just agree to be reasonable and keep using a tiny, wee, little dot that first originated with the writings of Aristophanes (surely, we can appreciate the historical significance and the longevity of such a small but huge piece of written history), maybe we just need to make punctuation more fun. If we give the sweet little period a fun sound effect in our brains every time we send a text, maybe the illusion of passive aggression and negativity will disappear, and the period can go back to doing its job, which is really all it wants to do, anyway.

What’s My Point?

Where am I going with all of this? Frankly, though I am a self-styled Captain of the Grammar Police (or at least a fully deputized member of the squad), I am not without mistakes in my texts, social media posts, emails, and heck, probably even blog posts; sometimes no amount of reading and re-reading, proofing, editing, and re-writing is enough. And texting is, after all, supposed to be informal (the author grudgingly admits). I am not on a mission to make every text message grammatically and punctuationally perfect (Lord, help me if that was my aim!). I would simply like to point out that reading into the meaning of something as innocuous as a period is ludicrous and frankly not where we should all be wasting our precious time. With so much negativity in our world these days, do we need to create more negatives by reading into the meanings of a simple little dot?

To quote a wise friend, Sam, who responded to my Facebook poll with the following: “Consider ‘seeking to understand if a txt [sic] makes you feel some kind of way. Don’t EXPECT others to be a kind of way. Accept them for how they are showing up.” So, how about that? How about accepting the text messages of friends, clients, colleagues, and family in the spirit of giving the benefit of the doubt, not assigning malice or assuming hidden meanings (you know what happens when you assume, right?)? Instead, let the period go back to being the irreproachable symbol of the end of a simple statement. If you truly feel that the sender of the said period is saying more than that wee symbol is meant to communicate, pick up the phone and find out.

Having said all this, I will keep using the period in everything I write — emails, text messages, blog posts, and contract stipulations. Period. Full stop.