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Is the Period Obsolete?

A resurgence in the war on periods has begun. In this week’s “news that has been old for decades”, young people who text (read: young people) have been caught red-handed using extra-short phrases and NOT using periods while messaging. And like all young-people trends, the period’s eulogy is being written by some dude at an elite, old-media newspaper.

This newest attempt to spell the end of the period started with an article in The New York Times. The piece, written without almost any periods (which the editor probably described to his friends as ‘the funniest idea he’s ever had’) argues over the “emotional charge” of using the most common form of punctuation in this topsy-turvy, post-AOL-chatroom world.

The crux of the article is that when young people see periods on mobile devices, they’re taken aback when they see a period, perceiving it as having some subtext and being too formal.

Let’s start there. The irony of the Times‘ full-stop-omitting shtick is that it maintains its turgid sentence structure and verbose vocabulary that they claim millennials, the major character in the articles, avoid. It’s the equivalent of your dad getting a Skrillex haircut but still wearing his business suit to prove…some kind of point?

To support their big expose, the Grandpa Times interviewed David Crystal, an honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales. Crystal seems happy to trade in punctuation for a simple line break you see when you press ‘send’:

“In an instant message, it is pretty obvious a sentence has come to an end, and none will have a full stop,” he added “So why use it?”

…spoken like a man who still has to keep his ‘phone time’ down to one hour on school nights. Firstly, any person who has ever had a tense exchange over text will ever agree that there are plenty of times where just because a message has been sent doesn’t necessarily mean the thought has come to an end. Insert “when you assume things” quote here.

Secondly, we all know periods in sentences are like eyebrows on faces. Sure, they might practically serve little purpose, but boy are they disconcertingly noticeable when they’re gone.

Later on in the article, the article continues to justify its own existence by bringing in an expertly-executed focus group to confirm its “young people think periods are dumb” hypothesis:

Researchers at Binghamton University in New York and Rutgers University in New Jersey have also recently noted the period’s new semantic force

 

They asked 126 undergraduate students to review 16 exchanges, some in text messages, some in handwritten notes, that had one-word affirmative responses (Okay, Sure, Yeah, Yup) Some had periods, while others did not

 

Those text message with periods were rated as less sincere, the study found, whereas it made no difference in the notes penned by hand

Sounds serious, right? Two known universities surveying kids these days about how they talk, using scientific terms like “some” and “yup”. Aside from a sizable sample group, here’s what’s missing in this experiment: CONTEXT. It makes the world go ’round. The researchers had no idea what the one-word texts were in response to, the writer’s relationship with the receiver, or whether the person was asked, “we agree this is a dumb thing we agreed to do for a $10 Amazon gift card?”

Tired of the doom-sayers of the period? Me too. Here’s what you really can take away from these kinds of articles:

Just like there are words and phrases that signal different emotions, using the period in text is a stylistic choice, if not a force of habit. Despite what the Times wants you to think, not everyone is in agreement on its effect. If you’re a person who uses texts to send succinct, what-which-where information and wait for a chance to speak to get into ‘the good stuff’, that’s great.

If you’re inclined to send emotional monologues in a single, three-screen text, you’re no less a person as anyone else. Everyone has their own articulation style, and that may change given how they wish to text. The key is to know who you’re speaking with, what they’re trying to convey, and adapt to how they convey it without getting too focused on literally the smallest, most insignificant part of a sentence. If you had to be explained that, the period might not be the source of your frustration with communicating.