• Genine Babakian

Battle Lines of Punctuation: Once Neutral Period Gains an Edge


I initially scoffed at the New York Times headline that declared the period was going out of style. But then I realized I had read half of the article before noticing it did not contain a single period.

The point Dan Bilefsky makes in this article is that the humble cornerstone of sentence structure is no longer obligatory, “a product of the punctuation-free staccato sentences favored by millennials.” Or, more aptly, by their chosen mode of communication. Why waste a character on a period when you can add a simple line break?

In my own daily communications with members of Generation Z (read: my children), I make an effort to punctuate, and type in complete sentences. In doing this I set a good example. It was my way of saying the first step toward barbarism is the abandonment of grammar.

Or so I thought. But after reading Bilefsky’s article, and others appearing in the Washington Post and the New Republic, it occurs to me that my desire to set a good example may in fact be construed as an act of hostility. I am waking up to the realization that the difference between:

You forgot your lunch

and

You forgot your lunch.

goes well beyond grammar.

The former states a fact, while the latter implies a certain snarkiness. Something along the lines of, “I can’t believe you forgot your lunch. Again.” By adding that period, I express dissatisfaction with said forgetter of lunches.

As Ben Crair wrote in The Period is Pissed, the once neutral punctuation mark has acquired an edge. It can symbolize irony. Insincerity. Aggression. Particularly when communicating with teens.

And Jeff Guo cited a hilarious example in his recent Wonkblog, Stop. Using. Periods. Period. I swear he could have gotten it straight from my iphone:

Parent: I am waiting for you in the car.

Child: r u mad?

Parent: I am not mad.

Parent: I am telling you I am waiting.

Child: what?????

Please note that while typing a period is considered to consume unnecessary effort and space, the texting generation has no problem sending messages with multiple question marks or (gasp) exclamation points. The latter is a pet peeve of mine, but I will save that for another column,

While I am not ready to abandon the period’s original usage, I do admire Guo’s spin on the new era of punctuation. The period, he writes, “has gained expressive powers after it was laid off from its job marking the ends of sentences. Now it’s an icy flourish we deploy against frenemies and exes. We should celebrate these developments. Writing is becoming richer. This is an exciting time. Period.”


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