OMG whatever next snowflake teenagers are being triggered by FULL STOPS. Say (who else?) linguists:
The debate was reignited after writer Rhiannon Cosslett tweeted:
‘Older people – do you realise 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.’
Several Twitter users expressed disbelief, and, despite her own use of a full stop, one even accused her of ‘peak snowflakery’. That prompted crime novelist Sophie Hannah to reply: ‘Just asked 16-year-old son – apparently this is true. If he got a message with full stops at the end of sentences he’d think the sender was “weird, mean or too blunt”.’
According to experts, youngsters used to communicating electronically break up their thoughts by sending each one as a separate message, rather than using a full stop, which they use only to signal they are annoyed or irritated.
Dr Lauren Fonteyn (left), from Leiden University, and Owen McArdle (right), from University of Cambridge, have been discussing the change in use of the full stop as youngsters now interpret the full stop as a sign of anger in the age of instant messaging
Some have said the full stop is redundant when used in texting because the message is ended just by sending it.
Well, they have a point there. Isn’t a full stop at the end of a passage that has clearly ended some sort of redundant tautology?
Professor David Crystal, one of the world’s leading language experts, argues that the usage of full stops is being ‘revised in a really fundamental way’.
In his book, Making a Point, he says that the punctuation mark has become an ’emotion marker’ which alerts the recipient that the sender is angry or annoyed.
He wrote: ‘You look at the internet or any instant messaging exchange – anything that is a fast dialogue taking place. People simply do not put full stops in, unless they want to make a point.
The full stop is now being used in those circumstances as an emotion marker.’
In other words, the snowflakes are treating a full stop as some sort of Emoji, rather than a formal way to mark the end of a sentence or paragraph. What to make of that?
I’ve opined on punctuation previously here. Thus on drafting speaking-notes:
Try this instead:
Easier said than done!
The challenges? Enormous!
Each context? Different!
But – we’re getting results!
x x x
The Dimitra Clubs. In Niger
Rural women having their say – in decision-making
Rural women with equal access
To services. To opportunities
x x x
People grow more
People have more
Fewer hungry mouths
x x x
Things get better
This is some 52 words. A full 35 words shorter!
The text is pared to the minimum. No full-stops! Scarcely grammar as such. Tiny ‘sentences’ or just simple phrases, of just a word or two.
Yet this text does so much more. It lets the words and ideas and images breathe.
The speaker can glance at the page and follow. Improvise. These micro-sentences allow the speaker to run them together or not, as makes sense on the day.
Note too how this second version indicates places where the speaker could pause for emphasis. It suggests words that might benefit from extra stress. It uses punctuation to help the speaker adjust energy and tone.
In short, this version is a transformational improvement. Its very form encourages the speaker to think differently about speaking: to get away from a flat teleprompter-like ‘narrative’ and just express herself boldly and with conviction.
Or this on ‘correct’ punctuation. That depends on what exactly you want to convey:
Punctuation is about using lines and dots on a written page to help convey nuances of tone and emphasis that come and go without thinking when we’re speaking.
Look at the differences in meaning here:
Aslam’s home was broken into by thieves when he was away in Lahore on business.
Aslam’s home was broken into? By thieves? When? He was away in Lahore on business!
Aslam’s home was broken into by thieves! When he was away in Lahore! On business!
Aslam’s home was broken into by thieves! When he was away! In Lahore? On business?
And there was the Great Debate. Are you a Platonist or an Aristotelian when it comes to punctuation? Call me a Platonist on that one. I go by ear (ie how the sentence should sound):
Some writing will benefit from somewhat breathless punctuation to make a certain sort of emotional impact on the reader. Other writing needs to be more formal, more sedate and measured.
All this comes to a head in official or senior speechwriting. Here the drafter has to do two incompatible jobs.
First, to prepare a text which is user-friendly for the speaker on the day, using dynamic punctuation and layout and anything else handy to help the speaker effortlessly use emphasis and get a better audience reaction.
Second, to write a text which can be published afterwards ‘for the record’ as a coherent piece of work with some authority. Here the punctuation and lay-out and general feel of the words may have to be quite different to be convincing.
When I’m writing my terse one-page roleplay briefs, I’ve stopped using full stops to end a paragraph. Why add clutter? You don’t want spots on your face. Why scatter them on a page (or across a PowerPoint slide) when the meaning is clear?
And in any case, a text or a roleplay brief (or a PowerPoint slide) is not an essay or a literary piece of formal work. It’s some words written down in the format that makes sense for that context to help people read and learn/understand stuff. Keep punctuation to the barest minimum needed to achieve that.
So whereas any teen who indeed gets worked up over a stray full stop closing a text message needs to go on a long bike ride, that teen has a point in not seeing the need for superfluous spots to end that text message. It’s a TEXT MESSAGE, not a PhD thesis. You can see that it’s ended. Just as you can see at a glance that a newspaper headline has ended and no-one puts a full stop there. Why go on about it?