Could the Period Come to a Full Stop?

5578969414_e58ebd73af_bThe NY Times has put forth the argument that the lowly period is going away.

They published an interview of David Crystal yesterday where he explained that when it comes to instant messaging, the period is now more notable for its presence than its absence.

The period — the full-stop signal we all learn as children, whose use stretches back at least to the Middle Ages — is gradually being felled in the barrage of instant messaging that has become synonymous with the digital age

So says David Crystal, who has written more than 100 books on language and is a former master of original pronunciation at Shakespeare’s Globe theater in London — a man who understands the power of tradition in language


In fact, the understated period — the punctuation equivalent of stagehands who dress in black to be less conspicuous — may have suddenly taken on meanings all its own<

Increasingly, says Professor Crystal, whose books include Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation,” the period is being deployed as a weapon to show irony, syntactic snark, insincerity, even aggression

If the love of your life just canceled the candlelit, six-course, home-cooked dinner you have prepared, you are best advised to include a period when you respond “Fine.” to show annoyance

“Fine” or “Fine!,” in contrast, could denote acquiescence or blithe acceptance

“The period now has an emotional charge and has become an emoticon of sorts,” Professor Crystal said “In the 1990s the internet created an ethos of linguistic free love where breaking the rules was encouraged and punctuation was one of the ways this could be done”

So could this happen? Could the period come to a full stop?

In a word, no.

As the NYTimes demonstrated in their article, you can't remove full stops without replacing them with something else to show where one sentence ends and another begins.

That NYTimes piece used paragraph breaks in place of full stops, effectively making the end of the paragraph the end of a sentence. This trick worked okay for an article this one time, but it can't work for longer works nor would it work in situations where you would need several successive sentences to express a complex thought.

People may drop periods from instant messages, but that is not the sum total of writing. You can no more declare it the future of writing than you can look at the use of screensnaps on Twitter and declare it the future of blogging, as someone did last year.

In both situations, what we're looking at is not a general trend but instead a response to unique pressures in specific environments. Screensnaps are used on Twitter because of its 140-character limit, and full stops are dropped on instant messages in order to save keystrokes on a smartphone's touchscreen.

Those restrictions don't apply outside of specific situations, so it would make little sense for a behavior to be repeated where it's not required. And that goes double considering that something like dropping full stops is actually counter-productive in many situations like the article you are reading right now.

image by sapheron

About Nate Hoffelder (11477 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

4 Comments on Could the Period Come to a Full Stop?

  1. Too many people live on Twitter and their phones and think that they’re writing. Sad to see the Times doing stunt pieces like this.

  2. Re: Byl – People ARE writing on Twitter and their phones. Just because it’s a different platform and a different grammar, it’s not NOT writing.

    Writing is just communicating by making marks with shared meanings. The full stop is a mark with a shared meaning, and it’s gaining MORE meanings than it had before.

    It is sad to see the way Times has reported this. I saw the original article. Lololol no periods, I so clever.

    This is actually a much cooler story than the scare story they made of it. Written communication is changing – let’s watch.

  3. English is a living language but this discussion is absurd and, no, periods will never be banned or go away.

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