The Punctuation Predicament

The Punctuation Predicament

When I finally got my texting game together in say, around seventh grade, I automatically just typed every message in its grammatically correct form. Now, this was before I was an English major, or had even done any amount of respectable reading. But still, I spelled everything correctly, and put commas where they felt needed.

Undoubtedly I received a bit of joking criticism from some of my friends who were fans of shorthand. But by then, it had become expected. And at this point, I can’t get away with even the slightest spelling error. The only times I use incorrect spelling/grammar/excessive emoticons now is when I’m being ironic. And no, I swear I’m not a hipster.

However, according to a New Republic article, I’m one of the minority. In the piece, Ben Crair elaborates on the fact that using proper punctuation in texts (and tweets) has become passe, and now even misconstrued as meaning something else.

For instance, the period. Choosing to include a period in texts, since it’s not exactly necessary, tends to hint to its receiver an air of finality, which can sometimes be felt as anger or aggressiveness. University of Pennsylvania professor Mark Lieberman explains it this way,

“In the world of texting and IMing the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all. In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like ‘This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.’”

And while an American University study found that college students use “sentence-final punctuation” on 39 percent of the time in texts, the omission and distortion of meaning is found in other punctuations, too.

Due to the inability to hear inflection and tone in a text, the overuse of the question mark and exclamation point has risen. There’s clearly a difference between receiving a text that says “Sounds like a good idea” and “Sounds like a good idea!!!!”. While I personally find the latter incredibly obnoxious, it does provide a sense of clarity (and assurance that it’s not sarcasm) the first lacks.

The reasoning behind this all, according to the article: “People are communicating like they are talking, but encoding that talk in writing.”

It seems to boil down to the unsolvable difference that will always lie between the written and spoken word. Regardless, the point remains: Knowing your platform and how to communicate on it effectively will always be a crucial skill. Period.