Query: Punctuation in personal digital media

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From Jessica Bennett:

Friends! I'm doing a piece for the NYT about the ways punctuation has changed — and taken new weight — in the texting era. For example:

  • I've started putting a space before an exclamation point in text messages, ie, "Can't wait !" Didn't immediately realize this but upon further reflection decided this is because a straight exclamation point sounds too intense, and I like to have a little space for pause.
  • The other day somebody replied to a text about dinner plans with "what time" (no "?") and I was like, UH YEAH FUCK YOU TOO.
  • Nobody uses commas anymore, right? A comma after "Hi" or "Hi Jess" is basically, as one friend put it, "geriatric."

What are your texting and/or email punctuation quirks?

What can you learn about a person from their e-punctuation style?

Stories? Theories? Linguistic knowledge?


Some earlier relevant LLOG posts:

"It's true", 7/18/2012
"The new semiotics of punctuation", 11/7/2012
"Aggressive periods and the popularity of linguistics", 11/26/2012
"Generational punctuation differences again", 81/2014

Update 2/27/2015 — Here's the article: Jessica Bennett, "When Your Punctuation Says It All (!)", NYT 2/27/2015.


  1. rootlesscosmo said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 7:53 pm

    I am geriatric and I don't think adopting a new set of punctuation conventions will hide that fact–the moreso as I'm sure I'd get them wrong, calling attention to the very condition I'd be trying to disguise.

  2. Jordan said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 8:04 pm

    I've definitely stopped double-spacing after periods, and now i only use , in texts for pause emphasis. Never heard of space before ? and/or ! and I still mess up the " before or after the . so I've stopped using . altogether hope this helps kthx bye

  3. erisagal said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 8:09 pm

    I've been informed that a period at the end of a sentence is considered aggressive and unfriendly. (Sorry, can't help myself.)

  4. ThomasH said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 8:24 pm

    At least on my phone, it is more difficult to write commas and so I often omit them where I would not in an email written on a proper keyboard. I generally make the effort with question marks.

  5. Bruce said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 8:28 pm

    I always leave a gap between URLs and punctuation to avoid confusing readers' browsers, though I'm not sure this is actually necessary. For example, languagelog.ldc.upen.edu .

  6. Jonathan said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 8:31 pm

    At least on my phone, after selecting a predictive word, a space is added after the word. If the next character is a comma, the space is eliminated, but if it's an exclamation point or question mark, it isn't. This leads the geriatric me to meticulously remove the space. but I envy those who can live with this new convention of [Space]! or [Space]?.

  7. David Morris said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 8:40 pm

    I have only just recently started admitting to being middle aged. Now I have to admit to being geriatric?

  8. Mara K said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 8:48 pm

    I've started using simple emoticons instead of periods in informal contexts, like texting and Facebook messaging :P Like that. It's both less abrupt and more expressive than a period by itself.

  9. Laura Morland said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 8:48 pm

    I text copiously in two languages (English and French), and in both I am conspicuously "literate," as one correspondent put it. Two of my regular correspondents are teenagers, and I've noticed that my insistence on proper punctuation and spelling has, over time, "upped their game" to my level.

    My new pet peeve: since finally upgrading to a smart phone, I now dictate most of my texts, and I'm annoyed that Android defaults to spelling "thursday" or "april," as well as common given names in lower case. When are the names for days of the week or months not capitalized? Never! So why default to lower case? I suppose because the programmers themselves do not bother to use capital letters in their own texts.

    Moreover, while the Android voice recognition software *does* recognize and correctly produces a . ! ? and : , it does not yet understand what I mean when I dictate "semicolon" or "quote marks". Perhaps if other like-minded people persist in these presumably lesser-used punctuation marks, Android will capitulate and insert these terms in their database.

    On the other hand, the other day Android correctly spelled "liaison" and did capitalize the word "Portuguese". So there is hope for punctuation-lovers of all stripes, whether "geriatric" or not.

  10. LisaF said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 8:52 pm

    I've started ending a lot of sentences with smiley faces. But I'm never sure whether to include the end punctuation when a period is required. It looks like a mistake or an extra eye.:)

  11. leoboiko said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 8:56 pm

    • I have custom keyboard shortcuts (via XCompose) to conveniently input typographic punctuation whenever I want (e.g. ‹Compose,*,*› → •).
    • Though I love the em-dash, it doesn't display very well in monospace terminals and certain other computer configurations – so I use an en-dash surrounded by spaces.
    • Two spaces after periods, always. This allows Emacs to distinguish sentences from e.g. periods used in abbreviations.
    ※ I like the Japanese "kome mark" and use it as a fancy asterisk attention-calling thingie, even in Latin text.
    • Periods and other punctuation always go inside quotation marks! The code won't compile otherwise!
    • Guillemets are considered « outdated » in Brazilian Portuguese text, but I use them anyway, cushioning the inside word in nonbreaking spaces.
    • I sometimes use lack of punctuation for rhetoric effect ("sweetheart I got great news come here like right this moment").
    • instant messaging lowercase, usually without periods
    • I like the "subjunctive question mark" and use it in informal contexts. That is, I consciously add a question mark to nonquestions, to denote any sort of doubt or irrealiness?
    • When writing fiction, in Portuguese or English, I like to pile up many adjectives without any comma-induced breathing room (so that I can violate both punctuation rules, and prescriptions against adjectives) (no really I actually dig the effect). In English fiction, I also like to run words together (e.g. "embergalls", "huntersknife") for that fake agglutinative feel.
    • '>' marks quotations, as in ages-old tradition. Code is cited with four spaces indentation, as in Markdown.
    • My fav plain-text way of highlighting words are ~these~.

    31y with a background in comp-sci.

  12. Mulysa said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 8:59 pm

    I use commas all the time. Although, I am in my mid-30s, so I may be way old.
    Although, in the "Hi Jess" example, I may not use a comma. With Swype, I can text full sentences more easily, so I put commas in some of my longer texts.
    With texts, I almost never end a sentence with punctuation, unless it is a question mark. If I want to add emphasis of any sort, I use an emoticon.
    In emails, I tend to use normal punctuation. I generally use emails for more formal correspondences, though. If it's informal, I drop punctuation a lot.

  13. Eric P Smith said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 9:10 pm

    Another geriatric here. I use two spaces after a full stop, but it's a nuisance because I have to produce the capital letter at the start of the next sentence manually. All my punctuation follows the rules of a lifetime. But I probably make 30 old-fashioned phone calls for every text.

  14. Laura Morland said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 9:16 pm

    Okay, we are definitely inhabiting a scary new world: Erisagal (below) has "been informed that a period at the end of a sentence is considered aggressive and unfriendly."

    And I've been wondering why I'm having such trouble coaching certain 8th-graders on when to use a period! Texting may be causing them to un-learn whatever understanding of punctuation they picked up in elementary school.

  15. Gregory Kusnick said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 9:28 pm

    The overarching theme here seems to be less about the evolution of new punctuation styles suited to new modes of communication than it is about accommodating one's typing habits to the quirks of particular pieces of software. So rather than a groundswell of grassroots linguistic innovation, many of the changes we're seeing may be due largely to the disproportionate influence of design choices made by a handful of software geeks at Apple and elsewhere.

  16. Alex K said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 10:55 pm

    As an under-30:

    I'm SO with Jonathan above. I include the spaces after words before end punctuation as a result of the autocorrect function, and I text with others who do the same. I never use double spaces after end punctuation anymore, texting or otherwise. To express decreased intensity of "!", I use "…!" but I think that's idiosyncratic.

    – In texts, anyone who uses periods except to express seriousness or anger is old. (so. old.)
    – Commas: I actually use commas now instead of periods, to indicate separation of ideas because periods are too serious and formal. ("no way, never saw it, how bout you?") But in emails, I still use them plenty.
    – Don't know if you're interested in capitalization, but that's also really changed, at least in my circles. Capitalizing in the era of IMing was totally uncool; now it's less of an issue because lots of autocorrecting will auto-capitalize initial words, "I", certain proper names, etc. Theory: Anything that shows that you're really thinking about it = so uncool.
    – Question marks: optional. I wouldn't think twice about the example you gave. Also useful for doubling: "what??"
    – Ellipses: important for texts and informal emails to indicate doubt, pause, lack of enthusiasm, concern, … and other stuff.
    Also important: if you use any of the following in texts: u, ur, c, 2, 4, etc. you are also old (or really clueless, or you don't have a smartphone, in which cases: get with the program).

  17. Thomas Rees said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 11:34 pm

    Two spaces after a full stop? I thought that went out with manual typewriters. It gives a nice retro look, though – like Victorian typography.

  18. ThomasH said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 11:51 pm

    Not just periods, Mr Rees. There should be two spaces after any punctuation mark that ends a sentence. It's like having more space between paragraphs than between line in a paragraph. And at least on my device, two spaces are not difficult to execute.

  19. Robert Ayers said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 11:59 pm

    When I compose email on my Verizon/Samsung Android tablet, if I end a sentence with space then ! (or . or ?), the software removes the space. To get the effect, I have to type two spaces then the !, then move the cursor and delete one of the spaces.

  20. D.O. said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 1:25 am

    I found the most unusual use for my phone. I am talking on it.

  21. Jon said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 3:36 am

    The problem with a space before punctuation is that a ? or ! may end up on a different line from the sentence it applies to. I OCR a lot of 19th century medical texts, where the convention is to put a space before a colon or semicolon. I always delete the extra spaces to avoid it looking silly. There are not many exclamation or question marks in these texts, so I'm not sure of the convention for those.

  22. Robot Therapist said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 4:07 am

    Curses, I posted a comment and it has disappeared. I hope it doesn't reappear and make this a double. I suspect it disappeared because I used "angle brackets" in it and the user interface may (ironically) have disliked that.

    Anyhoo, I generally agree with Alex K above. I don't think it's all about the user interface (phone versus keyboard). For me, email just has a different style from txt, even if I am using the same phone software to compose both. In txt, I tend to avoid periods and use commas or ellipses to separate sentences. Certainly if it's a single sentence txt, no final period is called for. I do however write multi-sentence txts. I note that some people seem to use "send" as an end of sentence marker, sending strings of single-sentence txts. (That may be an online chat thing …. I never did online chat). I thought two spaces after a period had been gone for decades, like since we had proportionally spaced fonts.

  23. Robot Therapist said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 4:10 am

    Oh and if I use ellipses of four periods, as I (perhaps wrongly) did above, it's really annoying when the autocorrect turns the first three into a single character like that.

  24. Robot Therapist said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 4:16 am

    How do people do emphasis in txts? I like the tilde idea. I tend to use asterisks. I have tried using ALL CAPS but the autocorrect then sometimes "learns" that I want those words all capitals, which is a nuisance. There is the period after. every. word. method, but what about emphasising one word?

  25. maidhc said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 4:30 am

    Typographers decided on one space at the end of a sentence back some time in the early 20th century. Keep in mind though that typographers can choose spaces of different sizes. The "two spaces at the end of a sentence" rule was taught to people who were using typewriters that produce monospaced text.

    Now that we all use word processors, typographers are nearly unanimous in asking for one space. Of course, typographers are a cranky bunch who despise typewriters.

    I must admit to using a space before a punctuation mark to make it obvious that the punctuation mark is not part of a text string:

    Have you tried ls -al ?

  26. Keith said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 4:53 am

    All those comments!

  27. Adam Funk said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 4:57 am

    "Typographers decided on one space at the end of a sentence back some time in the early 20th century."

    Not all of them. Intersentence spacing in English is still a holy war in typography.

  28. Stan Carey said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 5:00 am

    How do people do emphasis in txts? I like the tilde idea.

    Here's a piece on trends in tilde use and the type of emphasis it lends. I tend to use asterisks or caps to emphasise words when I can't italicise. Commas after Hi strike me as increasingly anachronistic.

  29. Jonathan said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 5:04 am

    More use of dashes- substitute for commas and full stops – sometimes with space before but always space after- used to think of this as early C19 style- also, when ending message, use ellipsis to suggest an unfinished thought or something of the kind…

  30. Mark said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 5:29 am

    Re: emphasis, the most common examples I see on Twitter are *asterisks* and _underscores_. Can't remember seeing ~tildes~, but I like it.

  31. Andrea Baronchelli said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 5:32 am

    Smiley faces at the end of sentences are widespread. Also, leaving two spaces after a full stop. Like this.

    (I love this topic, and do research on conventions. We very recently showed how such conventions emerge spontaneously, and how the structure of the social network influences their spreading. Perhaps it is not big surprise that the web is pushing new conventions like these! http://www.pnas.org/content/112/7/1989.abstract ).

  32. Alan Palmer said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 6:10 am

    Another geriatric here. Probably the only differences in punctuation I use in texts are that I'll use less commas than normal, as in the "Hi Jess" example above, and usually I'll leave out the period at the very end of the text but not ones that appear in the main body. I suspect I think of the "Send" button as a sort of super-period.

  33. Jan said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 6:24 am

    Alan Palmer. Your use of commas in texts is a matter of taste but please discriminate between fewer and less ;-)

  34. Riikka said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 6:59 am

    I have never heard of this convention of using two spaces after punctuation. According to my typing classes (1993 or so), two spaces are used in the address fields of letters between post number (zip code) and postal address (town) only. Oh, and possible in the beginning of a chapter if you don't have a tab, I suppose, but never in text. I think at some point my Android Touch Pal keyboard attempted to add two spaces after a period, which is why I had to turn the bloody autocorrection off.

    On the other hand, my non-Latin-alphabet-native SO insists of treating dashes in accordance with generic punctuation rules- writing them like this- which disturbs my brain more than I care to admit.

  35. tpr said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 7:07 am

    Speaking of less/fewer, Language Log has covered the mass/count asymmetry between them, but what about the singular/plural asymmetry? When talking about one item, I personally prefer less to fewer, but when talking about more than one, my preference is reversed:

    one less item
    ?one fewer item
    ?two less items
    two fewer items

    I'd be curious to know if others agree. If so, a sign like "8 items or less" is at least more inclusive of people with 7 items.

  36. MPC said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 8:08 am

    When I was in Kazakstan last year ))))

    I was confused to see an open right parenthesis or two creep into the end of every sentence ))))

    Often dozens, which I initially assumed was some sort of coding error in the messaging software )))))))))

    Turns out they were just being smiley, but I wonder where the eyes all went (((((

  37. Alain Turenne said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 9:03 am

    French, past 50 by … (your guess). Txts, almost never. Emails, French or English, 50/50, often with technical content (algebraic, say). I put two spaces after periods, and *also* before and after symbols, like this: The sum of a and b is denoted by a + b, their product can be ab or ba, depending, and all this subordinated to common punctuation rules. Very useful.

    But useless here, alas: the software doesn't let me have it my way. (Replacing spaces by tildes, it would be "The sum of~~a~~and~~b~~is denoted by~~a + b, their product can be~~ab~~or~~ba, depending.")

    About quotes, I follow Halmos: "like this", not "like that," unless it's a full sentence, as above.

  38. parkrrrr said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 9:16 am

    I must have one foot in the grave. My friends can tell when I'm using voice-to-text because it doesn't insert periods at the end of sentences automatically, and I don't use it often enough to bother dictating the punctuation. When I'm typing it myself, it has periods where they belong (with one space, though; that's SwiftKey's doing, as it inserts a "period space" when you type "space space."
    If I'm bothering to say something to you, I'm going to make the tiny extra effort to ensure that I've spelled and punctuated it correctly. If it's not worth that extra effort, it's not really worth saying in the first place.
    And get off my lawn.

  39. parkrrrr said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 9:18 am

    (Naturally, I neglected to close my parenthetical comment.)

  40. Granite26 said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 9:46 am

    I abuse the crap out of periods/ellipses when I'm typing in a conversational manner

    (It's as if…… I'm putting in the pauses where I'd be……. forming the next part of the sentence.)

    I do this rather than not typing anything. It almost feels as if, in a text or chat message, I've got to be typing the entire time I'm recording a single thought.

  41. Granite26 said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 9:50 am

    Also, I occasionally let swipe word errors go through without correcting them if they look close enough, or are amusing enough.

    YKTTW you swipe your finger across the letters without picking your finger up and it figures out what you were trying to say by where on the keyboard you went, but sometimes it gets it ridiculously wrong, but you can still tell what was meant because of the context and the placement of words on the keyboard? Yeah, that's me.

    In retrospect, though, I might just be a lazy jerk.

  42. K said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 10:00 am

    Regarding one or two spaces, I'm well aware that this is one of those peevy things, but what works well for me is two spaces in a monospace font and one in a proportional font. Usually I'm typing latex source in a text editor. If I type two spaces, then I have two in the source (which is monospace so that's good) and latex ignores the second space in favour of it's own spacing rules so I get (roughly) one in the (proportional) output.

    In an informal context I would keep internal .s but not the final one at the end on the last sentence. It seems unnecessary.

  43. Lisa said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 10:16 am

    I have one friend who uses an interrobang in text and email is virtually all places I would use just a question mark. To me, it comes off as really odd and aggressive, like in "Are you going to class today!?" when I go to class regularly and the answer is not urgent. n=1, but it's still a pet peeve of mine when I see it.

  44. mae said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 10:58 am

    I'm utterly geriatric but gave up two spaces after a sentence decades ago when I started using text processors !

    "Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong." says Farhad Manjoo and gives plenty of reasons: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/01/space_invaders.html

  45. Laura Morland said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 11:22 am

    @Lisa, I'm with you on the interrobang being "odd and aggressive". I assume your friend is female? Is she in the habit of overusing exclamation marks generally?

    I have a regular — actually *too* regular — email correspondent, a childhood friend who habitually types more exclamation marks than periods. (!) After reading these comments, however, I suppose I should be grateful that she employs standard punctuation, even though her use of exclamation marks is excessive.

    P.S. FWIW, I am not in agreement with Farhad Manjoo, or anyone else who opposes double spacing after periods, unless there are good typographic reasons not to use them.

  46. Riikka said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 11:26 am


  47. Anthony said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 11:40 am

    When a word is sentence-final I remove the space added by autocomplete before typing a period plus two spaces. (Obviously I'm old.)

    The New Yorker has a piece nominally about copy-editing but mostly about comma usage: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/23/holy-writ

  48. caryatis said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 11:57 am

    After getting an iPhone, I ve started using spaces in place of apostrophes (e.g. "I ll be there soon") because it s too hard to navigate to the next screen (I don t use autocomplete). I still use commas though, because I think it s necessary for understanding.

  49. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 12:15 pm

    On my LG (Android) phone, if I type the suggestion bar will include , saving me from changing screens.

  50. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 12:18 pm

    I forgot that I was typing html and I typed angle brackets, which of course disappeared along with their content. I meant to say that I type ⟨its⟩ and the suggestion bar includes ⟨it's⟩.

  51. Piyush said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 1:43 pm

    I have a suspicion that there is a much more mundane explanation for the extra space before the exclamation point described in Jessica Barnett's first point. Many text prediction/completion systems include a space at the end when you use a word from their prediction list, and I assume that a lot of texting is done with the help of such completion systems. It is certainly a hassle then to delete the last space to put the exclamation point at the "right" place.

  52. Mooloo said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 2:07 pm

    Not all of them. Intersentence spacing in English is still a holy war in typography.

    A war conducted with passion. But inevitably the professionals go for one space, and those that go for two are the amateurs.

    I have a friend who insists on two. Because her professor insisted on it for her thesis. Based on his thesis. Written on a typewriter. Thus are zombie rules carried forward!

    Two full spaces leaves ugly white space in the text, and is no more readable.

    The space before a exclamation mark and question mark have the advantage of making them much more obvious. I don't do it, but it doesn't bother me that others are changing the rules in English.

  53. NBSK said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 2:21 pm

    In text messages, I tend to overuse exclamation marks. But then again, I am usually texting my SO, and we are generally happy-excited about whatever we say to each other (even in person). At times when we are upset at each other, the excitement drops (as it does in person) and we generally only use periods to end sentences.

    All caps is considered the same as yelling and the emotion of it (happy-excited or angry-excited) is determined by its content.

    Lack of capitalization and punctuation is generally used rhetorically, in the same vein as laid out in leoboiko's comment above. Otherwise, I try to default to "standard" capitalization and punctuation. Never did two spaces after sentence-final punctuation, but my parents probably do (I am 24).

    I am a big fan of parenthetical phrases (as you might be able to tell).

    Surrounding asterisks for emphasis when I would otherwise use italics, or sometimes for roleplay-type action descriptions like *takes deep breath*. A single asterisk on front or back of a word is a correction for a typo in a preceding message.

    Ellipses are always three or four, depending on whether they don't or do, respectively, end a sentence. I have seen my brother use a reduced ellipsis.. like that, with two periods. I don't understand that one.

    If I intend to indicate a sing-songy inflection, my end punctuation is a tilde, or tidle plus exclamation mark. So amazing~!

    I'm a 24yo American who emigrated from a country with more British influence pretty young, and I generally prefer quote marks within punctuation, and the spellings of "favourite" and "honour". But I also prefer the spellings of "color" and verbs with the ending "-ize".

    I hate predictive text and I turn it off on every device I own. But I may just be a control freak.

  54. Piyush said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 2:31 pm


    I try to use two spaces when typing text in a text editor such as emacs: this is because emacs uses this to provide commands which treat sentences as units. However, most often, the text I type is wrapped in some kind of mark-up, e.g. LaTeX, and the markup system takes care to get the spacing right (in case of LaTeX, for example, this is done at a level much finer than just deciding between one vs. two spaces).

  55. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 2:38 pm

    Over fifty. Periods in texts. After that Language Log post that MYL linked to, I asked the friend who I text the most, and he says he doesn't see them as aggressive.

    No apostrophes in texts either. It's too much bother on my dumb phone. My Yahoo e-mail (note hyphen) has an SMS feature that appears to change apostrophes into some sequence of letters and numbers—which it doesn't show me till after I send the message—so I try to remember not to use apostrophes there, either.

    I like em and en dashes and am willing to type HTML escapes to get them when I can. I also type < and < if I want angle brackets.

    Observe closely as I don't get into the holy war about spaces after periods. (If you could observe what I'm typing, though, you'd know which side I'm on.)

  56. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 2:45 pm

    Hi again, everyone. I also use commas before vocatives.

  57. ThomasH said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 3:26 pm

    @ Mooloo

    "A war conducted with passion. But inevitably the professionals go for one space, and those that go for two are the amateurs."

    Professional whats? Professional writers? Professional readers?

  58. Laura Morland said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 3:59 pm

    @ ThomasH

    I presume that "Mooloo" means professionals in the publishing industry.

    However, as others (Piyush) have pointed out, when you're using, e.g., LaTeX, the software takes care of the kerning, and the input (one space or two after a period) is irrelevant.

  59. hector said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 4:27 pm

    I have a new pet peeve: the use of "geriatric" as a synonym for "old fart."

    Simply amazed at the rearguard defence of two spaces after a period. The need for that rule has disappeared: why continue it?

  60. Robot Therapist said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 4:55 pm

    LaTeX? I thought we were talking about txting?

  61. Gregory Kusnick said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 5:04 pm

    Hector: Some people find a larger space between sentences aesthetically preferable. (I'm one of them, but I try not to be dogmatic about it.)

    Even Farhad Manjoo's "plenty of reasons" why two spaces are "inarguably wrong" boil down to personal aesthetic preference.

    So it seems to me there's plenty of room for reasonable people to disagree on this.

  62. Wide Spacer said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 5:09 pm

    I think you have to take a really close look at the subtleties of technology and how they affect things. Blanket statements about age and trend are simply going to be wrong. For example some comments here have said that periods are no longer used, and people talk about whether this is an age thing. It's more of a context thing. I use text messages to send brief but timely information to people, where I pretty much just expect an "ok", or maybe an answer to a question. Some people use text messages more like an ongoing chat. I think this has a lot to do with how your device presents the text messages. An online chat is less like writing and more like a transcript of a conversation. I say something, and then you say something. The software provides "punctuation" in the form of color-coded balloons around the text. When I have a conversation like this, I tend to drop periods, because they become pointless, and the occasional period stands out with extra meaning.

    Also check your own practice of adding a space before a final ! or ? – are you sure you chose to do this originally? Some mobile software that allows for word completion does funky spacing things when you you select a pre-completed word, like automatically adding a space after it whether you meant to type it or not. iOS and android also both convert two spaces into a period and a space, allowing people to type periods without ever typing a period.

    Technology has always had a big impact on how we punctuate, now more than ever. I think right now the big change has less to do with throwing away "proper" grammar, and more to do with using the written word to convey what previously would have been spoken conversations.

  63. ThomasH said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 5:14 pm

    @ hector.

    It is the effort to impose the "one space" rule that I object to.

    @ Laura Moreland,

    I do not see what special relevance the opinions of "professionals in the publishing industry" should have about one's preferences about what looks good on the printed page or screen. this kind of prescriptionism is especially odd here on Language Log.

  64. Alana said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 5:18 pm

    Well, punctuation has taken on all new kinds of meaning.

    Imagine you send a text to your partner that says "Hey, can you pick up my dry cleaning on the way home?"

    What is the difference between:

    "Okay! :-)"
    "Okay :-)"
    "Okay…" or "…Okay"
    or even "Okay?"

  65. Eric P Smith said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 7:33 pm

    On the question of the space between sentences, there is an article here which I think is excellent. It concludes that

    I just want you to understand that you are free to choose, and mock anyone who claims there is a "rule" that you are breaking.

    The article itself uses an extra 0.25em between sentences, which of course is not an option if you are texting.

  66. Laura Morland (no "e") said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 7:41 pm


    I agree with you wholeheartedly. And I sincerely doubt that the OP is going to use any comments concerning "professionals," whatever ilk they may belong to.


    I'm admittedly old guard enough to find a LACK of punctuation "aggressive," to quote an earlier poster. But the one exception I make is "Okay," where lack of punctuation (or emoticon) doesn't bother me in the least. (My teens have moved from "Ok" to "Kk" to "K" on that one.)

    Speaking of teens, I had occasion this morning to read some Facebook IMs from my 15-year-old, and I realized that she is definitely making an effort to use proper grammar and punctuation when writing to ME. To her friends she drops her "g"s and writes "ta" instead of "to," as in "I can't really talk right now I'm doin French. Give me like 10 minutes and I'll be able ta talk" [No final period.]

    Back to your query: at first blush the response I liked the most of the ones you offered is:

    "Okay! :-)"

    On the other hand, if my husband were THAT excited to go to the cleaners, it might cause me to wonder…. ;-)

  67. GH said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 8:37 pm

    Observe closely as I don't get into the holy war about spaces after periods. (If you could observe what I'm typing, though, you'd know which side I'm on.)

    And of course we can't tell from looking at the text itself, since multiple spaces disappear in HTML formatting. Another example of technology imposing convention. (Personally I impose it by running a search-replace function on documents sent to me for editing. We're usually up against a page limit, so this does serve a purpose beyond personal preference.)

  68. Wide Spacer said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 9:14 pm

    @Jerry Friedman

    FYI, most websites today accept unicode input—if you know how to type the unicode em and en dashes you don't have to test the web site's HTML filters. On the mac, option-dash and shift-option-dash produced en and em dash respectively.

    As far as the space-after-periods issue, I'm the self-declared leading expert worldwide on that issue, but I'm trying my best to not hijack this thread. The original question itself about punctuation in texting (and chatting and I.M., etc.) is interesting enough.

  69. Joyce Melton said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 10:08 pm

    Authentic "geriatric" here. About whether I use a period at the end of a text, it depends on what keyboard I'm using. On my phone, it's a bother, so usually, I don't.

    As for double spacing after periods, it took me forever to learn the rule, forever to stop doing it, and I'd prefer not to have to remember the struggle.

  70. Ray said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 10:56 pm

    back in the day, all us cool kids knew how to code. for the web (our "homemade hompages)). and we only used lower case (the standard for coding languages), but were also punctilious about spacing and punctuation and symbols and u/l case — because all those things *meant* something (like, it mattered if you typed ; } or ;}, and web addresses were case sensitive while email addies were not). anyway, inevitably, my emails became all lower case, but perfectly punctuated and spaced. (at the time I was also posting to newsgroups via usenet, so I learned how to render bold and italics; but also in the meantime, I was specking type for typesetting. so I was keenly aware of notations for bold and italics and m dashes and whatnot for the print world and the online world). basically: I was always keenly aware of how text that I typed could be formatted to produce print/online text that followed old fangled printing conventions or browser-constrained rendering (where paragraph indents or spaces surrounding dashes were just not doable — heck, even the digital term "font" was irritating.) long story short: yes, your platform does influence how you 'typeset' (render) your content, and that creeps in to how you "normally" express yourself.

  71. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 12:19 am

    Wide Spacer: Thanks—I should really try to remember that. I trust HTML codes more than keyboard shortcuts, but that's probably Paleopyritic of me.

    hector: "geriatric" for "old" is an example of the study-for-the-thing-studied metonymy. How you feel about it probably says something about your "psychology".

    Does an @ before people's names serve any purpose here, or is it an example of a punctuation habit people have picked up from social media and now use where it makes no difference?

  72. Laura Morland said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 3:02 am

    Dear Jerry Friedman,

    You wrote: "Does an @ before people's names serve any purpose here, or is it an example of a punctuation habit people have picked up from social media and now use where it makes no difference?"

    Yes, I aver that it *does* serve a purpose: to signal to one and all the one is responding to a particular post (or poster). Particularly in a setting where some folks are using inscrutable monikers rather than names (you and I are exceptions), it is an aid to clarity, which I'm sure we'd agree should be the basis for all habits of punctuation.

    If, for example, I were to begin a sentence with the words "Wide Spacer," "piyush," or "erisagal," half the readers might not readily understand that I was addressing a particular person.

    Even the persons in question might overlook the post, as we cannot truly "tag" people on this site.

    The @ sign — particularly surrounded by white space on either side — sticks out!

  73. Adam Funk said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 6:29 am

    @Mooloo But inevitably the professionals go for one space, and those that go for two are the amateurs.

    Some professionals use the intersentence space around 1.5 times the width of the interword space (for a given line). (LaTeX does that by default.)

  74. Laura Morland (no "e") said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 6:34 am

    @ Jessica Bennett

    Parenthetical remark: I very much appreciated your piece about your experience at Newsweek: http://leanin.org/stories/jessica-bennett/

  75. dporpentine said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 6:48 am

    I type texts and emails the way I type everything else, following exactly the same conventions for exactly the same reasons. This means, for example, inserting the required comma for direct address–so one comes after "Hi" and before the addressee's name. No emoticons ever. I do this because it's how I communicate.

    I don't care at all how other people write texts or emails, except for (1) adults who use antiquated texting abbreviations ("u" for "you," "2" for "to," and all the other things that make you look you're a senator) and (2) ellipsis abuse, which drives me blinking crazy. But it's got to be serious abuse: "The attorney…came back with his thoughts…doesn't think we should go forward with the purchase…maybe next time…he thinks….next time okay…but still need to check……" I get mad just typing it.

  76. chris said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 7:07 am

    Re: emphasis, the most common examples I see on Twitter are *asterisks* and _underscores_.

    Would it break my geriatric cover if I point out that both of those go back to at least USENET, probably 20+ years?

    I'm pretty sure I punctuate texts differently (and less) than emails and other things typed on a proper keyboard, because it's so much more of a pain to put in punctuation. Anything that can possibly be dispensed with isn't going to be worth the effort. (Ditto capitalization.)

  77. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 9:12 am

    Jerry Friedman: But 'geriatric' for 'old' is not just 'study for thing studied', because geriatric is not just the study of old people, but the study of diesases of old people and their treatment.

  78. Bean said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 9:47 am

    I agree with Ray, just having made the switch from dumb to smart phone, the interface ends up influencing how you normally express yourself: one's "normally" is a moving target.

    I've dropped all the old-person abbreviations (2, ur) that made sense when texting with a number pad, embraced Swype (it's fun and artistic!) and the approximately-correct autocompletes, happily added swear words and local placenames to my dictionary to help with autocomplete in the future, and tried my best to figure out the subtleties of the Android keyboard to minimize the number of keystrokes (always a THING with me) and thus the total effort required to express myself.

    This last part probably comes from being the last generation of girls taught to touch-type on electric typewriters in my high school, in Grade Ten in 1991-1992. So I am lazy and hate using more keystrokes than absolutely necessary, and try and avoid the mouse at all costs.

  79. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 10:21 am

    O Laura Morland: I understand what you're saying, but I've never had the slightest hesitation in reading the addressed person's moniker at the beginning of a reply, regardless of formatting, and I've never seen anyone say they've had any problem with it. This may be partly because someone reading comments has already seen the monikers. So I suspect the @ is not that helpful for clarity. (By the way, I think that in this thread, you and I are in the majority in using names or at least strings that can't be interpreted as anything else, such as "parkrrrr". And I suspect Piyush, with a capital P, is a name, though I don't know.)

    Thanks for answering the question I intended to ask, which is that the @ doesn't tag people the way it does on Facebook and, I gather, Twitter.

    Andrew (not the same one): You're right, "geriatric" is a more complicated variant of that trope.

  80. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 10:24 am

    chris and Ray: I admit I use // for italics on Usenet, mostly for titles—I don't use much emphasis. I'll use ** or __ if I'm using slashes for phonemes, though. I've occasionally used // for italics on e-mail lists.

  81. Wide Spacer said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 12:17 pm

    Stan Carey and others,

    The use of _underscore_, *asterisk*, and ~tilde~ are not random modern happenings. These practices were common on USENET before the web even existed. Around the time the web was invented, these practices were incorporated into a standard called "setext". An early document about setext is available here: http://docutils.sourceforge.net/mirror/setext/setext_concepts_Aug92.etx.txt

    It's sad that someone could write an entire article about the use of the tilde and miss this history.

  82. Piyush said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 1:54 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: If I remember correctly, I picked up the '@' habit when dealing with several correspondents on multi-way IRC chats and emails, and this was at least a few years before I was aware of twitter.

  83. Piyush said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 2:05 pm

    Oh yes, and "Piyush" is indeed a name. It comes from Sanskrit (it means "nectar", especially a mythological kind which is supposed to give immortality) and is pronounced [piːyuːʂ] in Hindi (with the last sound often simplified to [ɕ]). As far as I can tell, its usage as a name for humans is recent, but it has certainly been used as a noun for a long time. It also happens to be the Hindi term for the pituitary gland.

  84. Piyush said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

    @WIde Spacer:

    Indeed, and there are /several/ light weight markup processors which will take human readable text marked in *this* way and convert it into heavier markup formats like HTML or LaTeX. Some examples are various flavours of Markdown, reStructuredText (written ReST, this is the format in which the Python documentation is written), Emacs Org mode, and of course the Swiss army knife of such things: pandoc.

  85. svan said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 4:18 pm

    I don't know if this is related to texting and the like, or if it's even really a recent thing, but over the past few years I've noticed what appears to be an increase in people using periods where I'd use a comma (and where I think it's pretty standard to do so), like:

    "If you forgot your password. Use these steps to reset it."
    and similar situations, where one ends up with two separate sentences, one of which is totally acceptable (to me), but the other of which is not.

    I thought it might have something to do with a period being easier than a comma to access on some devices, but I really don't know.

  86. Xmun said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 4:45 pm

    I too was going to protest about the meaning of "geriatric", but Andrew (not the same one) beat me to it. Geriatric medicine refers to the curing of old people's illnesses, just as paediatric medicine does the same for children's illnesses. What people have been expressing are their "senile" points of view. (And that's what I am doing too, since I am now in my 79th year.)

  87. Xmun said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 4:47 pm

    And just for the record I wrote my previous comment at 10.45 am here at longitude something like 175 E.

  88. DWalker said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 5:21 pm

    What part of speech is "like", as in "I was like, UH YEAH F*** YOU TOO"? I thought there was a story on LL but I can't find it now. a Web search doesn't help much.

  89. Bean said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 5:39 pm

    xkcd calls it "Quotative Like":


    (I'm new to this blog, so I have no clue whether there is an old article, but the xkcd comic was too good not to post… though I don't know how to make it clickable.)

    [(myl) And linguists also call it "quotative like", since the 1980s or so.]

  90. Laura Morland (no "e") said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 5:42 pm

    @ Bean — you just did! :-)

  91. Bean said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 5:43 pm

    OK, that was like magic, in the olden days you had to tag links in some way, or maybe I am just showing my age. :)

  92. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 6:11 pm

    Xmun: That's interesting, since people might say repeated use of "LOL!!!!!" is juvenile, but I don't think anyone would call it pediatric. Language is weird.

  93. Scott said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 9:55 pm

    I'm under 20, which I think makes me a youngster on LL. I don't actually text much, but I chat online with a laptop, which is essentially equivalent (the people I talk to are often on phones). The general punctuation guidelines:
    -Sentences are separated with a line break; simple declaratives don't get a period.
    -Periods aren't used much. If a conversation partner started ended their sentences with periods, my response would be to ask what they're upset about. They can be used instead of a line break to combine two sentences onto one line, which is fine as long as the line doesn't end with a period.
    -Question marks are given to sentences that would be pronounced with noticeable interrogative inflection, particularly to indicate that the question is genuine and not sarcastic. It's not uncommon to leave them off of routine questions though; Ms Bennett's response to an omitted ? is baffling to me, and kind of frightening.
    -Sometimes a question mark by itself is used to indicate confusion.
    -Exclamation points are used about the same as in very informal prose. You can put a bunch in a row, if you want.
    -The ellipsis (normally 3 periods, sometimes more) is extremely common; indicates a long pause. At the end of a sentence it often suggests the speaker trailing off. I couldn't possibly describe the difference nuances the ellipsis is used for.
    -Commas are used, some, but not nearly as much as in prose. They are often used to conjoin independent clauses.
    -All caps (not technically punctuation, but still) indicate anger, most often feigned.
    -People have different ideas about emphasis. I use *word*, which is common, and -word- for weaker emphasis, which I believe is a personal idiosyncrasy.
    -The ~ is used to indicate a singsong inflection, normally before or after a word or sentence.

    Both when writing normal prose and chatting, I don't consciously think about punctuate it; I just punctuate it how I would say it. So I suppose I have separate internal inflection models for prose and for text. Texting in perfectly punctuated prose would be very disturbing, for the exact same reason that it would be disturbing to talk casually to a friend in the manner of formal prose.

  94. Jason Eisner said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 11:34 pm

    I enjoy closing a parenthetical remark with an emoticon (like this ;-). As I wrote to a friend in 1996, this small pleasure is one of my few reasons to use explicit smileys when communicating with irony-preloaded adults. (It's harder to frown parenthetically.)-:

    Occasionally I've been accused of leaving out the closing parenthesis. My view is that it got absorbed into the adjacent and typographically stronger smiley, by whimsical analogy to the other "punctuation absorption" rules described by Geoff Nunberg in The Linguistics of Punctuation (1990). For example, while a subordinate clause is ordinarily set off by a pair of commas, the closing comma gets absorbed into a following period if there is one, as you see here.

    If you're feeling Spanish, you can mark the emotion at both ends (-: like this :-).

  95. Riikka said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 4:05 am

    I seem to have picked up the habit of communicating solely in punctuation, as:

    Friend: I found something interesting today!
    Me: ?
    Friend: There's a new TV-series to watch online.
    Me: !
    Friend: It's really funny!
    Me: !!
    Friend: It's not available on your area, though.
    Me: …

  96. Laura Morland said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 7:41 am

    @ Jason Eisener

    I used to do the very same thing with closing parentheses. Then Facebook decided to update their game and automatically render "semicolon dash parenthesis" into a winky face, etc. And so now I type them, create a space and then follow it by a closing parenthesis.

    Not as satisfying.

  97. Laura Morland said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 7:43 am

    PS I'm sorry I misspelled your name. I'm dictating this on my Android phone, and didn't catch it until it was too late.

  98. Wide Spacer said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 8:13 am

    Back-to-back postings from Laura Morland show once again how our communication decisions are dominated by the technology.

  99. tpr said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 8:38 am

    @Jason Eisner

    It's harder to frown parenthetically.)-:

    I was confused by this comment because in my variety of English, a frown is an expression of the brows rather than the mouth. I had to look it up to discover that it means something different in North America. I don't know why I hadn't realized this before.

  100. Ray said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 9:07 am

    I used to use emoticons (lightly) on usenet, but stopped when facebook rendered them into yellow m&ms. too heavy-handed.

    I also think it's interesting how the hashtag symbol (#) is a kind of poetic compression of meanings from coding languages. in perl, a hash sign (#) is used to make an editorial comment that’s not part of the operating code… in html the hash sign is used like a kind of bookmarked reference within a webpage… in the late 80s, the # was used to designate a channel in internet relay chat… and in javascript a hashtable is basically a set of objects (apple, banana, orange) paired with other objects (red, yellow, orange). today, whenever we use a hashtag on facebook or twitter, we reference these ideas (we point to an object — an idea created on the fly, a slogan, a meme — but we’re also doing something: editorializing, collating, curating, aligning…)

  101. Laura Morland said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 9:20 am

    @ tpr

    Pease don't leave us hanging… what *is* your variety of English?

  102. tpr said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 12:23 pm

    @Laura Morland

    Pease don't leave us hanging… what *is* your variety of English?

    Good question. Some mixture of Australian and British. As far as I can tell, a frown is normally an expression of the brow in both places.

  103. Piyush said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 12:58 pm

    Riika: You seem to be part of a glorious (if apocryphal) tradition going back at least to Victor Hugo and his publishers: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/06/14/exclamation/

  104. Mark Dunan said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 4:39 pm

    I prefer double spaces after sentences because they make clear the difference between periods used in acronyms (which will only have one space after them) and those at the end of sentences, but I'm not exactly militant about it.  The self-righteousness of the one-spacers makes me want to fight back, somewhat.

  105. Ron said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 7:49 pm

    The space before the ! or ? is still correct French, no? Don't know why that convention was established, but I'm sure it has nothing to do with dialing down the emotional valence of the sentence. However, I see it less and less in things like blog posts, tweets and texts. Creeping Americanization or just not wanting to waste as space?

  106. Laura Morland said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 8:13 pm

    @ Ron, yes "correct French" requires a space before ? ! and all other "two-part" punctuation, and therefore also before : and even ; (which the French don't use much at all).

    However, many of my French correspondents don't grasp the subtlety of the rule, and put a space before commas and periods as well. Just last night I was chuckling to myself, thinking about this thread while reading an email from a Frenchwoman of my acquaintance who systematically puts a space before every single mark of punctuation. (And I"m 99% sure that she wasn't using a smart phone.)

  107. Ron said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 9:41 pm

    @ Riikaa Communication by punctuation can be admirably efficient, but I don't think there is a settled semantics of punctuation. My set is close to yours but not identical:

    ? = Tell me more OR I don't understand
    ?? = What? OR Are you serious? OR Where did you go?
    ! = Cool!
    !! = Hey! Pay attention, I'm talking to you!
    … = Don't use it by itself BUT at end of sentence ~ "don't have to spell it out for you" NOT "Bummer"

  108. Laura Morland (no "e") said,

    March 1, 2015 @ 9:56 am

    So, Jessica Bennett published her article (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/style/when-your-punctuation-says-it-all.html ), but at first glance she didn't make use of any of the comments posted here.

    This thread was a lot of fun, though, and I'm glad she started it. I learned quite a few things, the most disturbing among them being that a period can be understood as "aggressive."

    The poor little period! It shouldn't have to carry that burden.

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