Monday, 24 August 2020

The menace of the full stop

I was going to write about prepositions this week and how their use is changing but an item on the radio today derailed me and prepositions will have to wait.

The item was about how teenagers or Generation Z find it intimidating for people to use full stops, or periods, in text messages, tweets, WhatsApps etc. The Daily Mail and the Telegraph (the latter behind a paywall) had screaming headlines:

Now snowflakes are triggered by FULL STOPS: Sensitive readers find the humble dot 'weird, mean or too blunt' (Daily Mail)

Generation Z feels intimidated by full stops, experts find (Daily Telegraph)

The thing is, these "experts" were academics in New York, who interviewed 126 undergraduates in 2015. So why does this rear its head again now? The researchers found that the very limited number of subject responded to statements couched as text messages as "insincere" if ended with a full stop. There was no such reaction if the statements were presented as hand-written notes. (I have been unable to read the full article as my "institution," the London Library, does not stock Computers in Human Behavior, which is the journal it appeared in).

But that fine linguist David Crystal, perhaps responding to their research in his blog in 2016, said:

"Last week I gave a talk at the Hay Festival about my book on punctuation, Making A Point. Towards the end, I illustrated the way the use of the full-stop (period) was changing in fast-moving dialogue settings on the Internet and in short-messaging services - being omitted at the ends of statements, and used only when the writer wanted to add an emotional charge to what's being said. This sort of thing:

John's coming to the party [statement of fact]
John's coming to the party. [Oh dear!]"

He gave the same example on Radio 4 this morning and I must admit it's a puzzle to me but then your Grandma is the sort of person who uses semi-colons in emails and wouldn't dream of leaving out punctuation in a text.

                                                                 Photo credit Jennie Scott

What do you think? Do you find full stops in short messages insincere or intimidating? It is certainly true that the use of full stops is changing. You don't find them after Mr or Ms these days or after initials in a name like T S Eliot, where once they were de rigueur. I am currently reading Berdardine Evaristo's Booker-prizewinning novel Girl, Woman, Other, where she eschews full stops and capital letters at the beginnings of paragraphs and sentences. (The title should be girl woman other, really)

Interestingly, Blogger would not allow Girl, Woman, Other as a tag, because the commas create separate tags.


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