Anticipatory confirmation

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Claire Landsbaum, "Research Confirms Using Periods in Texts Makes You Seem Pissed Off", ComPlex 10/3/2015:

Before texts, every sentence ended with a period. But with the advent of impersonal electronic communication, line breaks became a quicker and easier way to express the end of a thought. "The default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all," Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania​, told The New Republic. "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.'" In other words, because the period is a deliberate choice, including it is especially passive-aggressive.

The reference is to Ben Crair, "The Period Is Pissed", New Republic 11/25/2013, which (I think) was inspired by an earlier LLOG post "The new semiotics of punctuation", 11/7/2012, and referenced an even earlier publication by Rich Ling and Naomi Baron, "Text Messaging and IM: Linguistic Comparison of American College Data", Journal of Language and Social Psychology 2007.

I'm not sure exactly who is confirming whom in all of this, but it reminds me of John Allison's webcomic Destroy History:

(See also "Aggressive periods and the popularity of linguistics", 11/26/2013.)



  1. Graeme said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 8:53 am

    Fascinating. When I first fell for texting (at its best a kind of interpersonal haiku), a beau said it was quaint/delightful that I actually used punctuation – and line breaks.
    Punctuation then was pretty common in texts. My first iPhone automatically put in a stop if you hit "space" twice. And capitals automatically followed stops.

    I only used line spacing as, like in haiku, it increased the range of expression. But back then it was not the norm – older, less 'smart' phones didn't capture it.

    Giving up on punctuation decreases the range of expression.

    I'm no peevist. Perhaps soon there'll be a common electronic slate on which we'll communicate like in concrete poetry – more two dimensionally and less grammatically rule governed?

  2. Victor Mair said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 9:08 am

    In antiquity, writing systems — whether logographic, syllabic, or alphabetic — were innocent of punctuation. I personally am very fond of precise punctuation, since it helps one to express oneself with greater clarity. And you can even use it to indicate a lingering thought that is not yet quite fully formed….

  3. Adam F said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 9:58 am

    Victor Mair's comment about antiquity reminded me of this quote, supposedly from the Sun FORTRAN Reference Manual:

    Consistently separating words by spaces became a general custom about the tenth century A. D., and lasted until about 1957, when FORTRAN abandoned the practice.

  4. EricF said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 12:03 pm

    Being a curmudgeon, I write texts exactly as I write everything else: with complete words, capitalization of proper nouns, punctuation, two-spaces after periods and so on. I've even got my 20- and 30-year-old kids doing it.

  5. Tweet: “Retroactive confirmation” — my periods are now pa… | Guardian of the Non Sequitur said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 12:14 pm

    […] confirmation" — my periods are now passive aggressive. sorry for completing my thoughts. 6 mins […]

  6. Steven Marzuola said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 1:01 pm

    I also punctuate and avoid abbreviations in text. But I've never texted two spaces after a period, at least not on purpose.

    I was taught to type two spaces after a period and still do it out of habit. But before sending, I replace them all with one. The only place should be done is with monospaced fonts, such as typewriters.

    On a typewriter, every character has the same width. But the period character is padded with extra space on both sides. If you type just one space, that means that the period has a half-space to the left and one and a half spaces to the right. Visually that might not be enough, so a second space is okay.

    But in standard printing, the period has a tiny space on both sides. When a single space is added after it, it's usually enough.

  7. SlideSF said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 1:30 pm

    Sometimes the equipment dictates the usage. On my phone a period followed by a space automatically causes the next letter to be capitalized. Where I used to use a period after an abbreviation, I no longer do. I also tend to use line breaks instead of periods at the end of a "sentence" because the key is bigger and I have less of a tendency to fatfinger myself onto the smiley keyboard – a great annoyance to me. I will only use a period if I want to emphasize finality or give added importance to a word or phrase. Though never to indicate anger.
    Still, this is all in the realm of texting, and doesn't translate to my actual writing, whether on paper or a computer. One example of periods giving added meaning to a sentence (which I see a lot but rarely use) is the use of multiple periods in a single sentence for the effect of sarcasm or to make something sound like a Really. Big. Deal.

  8. Rob Wilson said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 3:03 pm

    Er, texting on all the Android phones I've ever owned does not permit line breaks!

    Anyway, I was amused, as a Brit, to see "period" (US English) mixed with "pissed off" (Brit English). I thought the US phrase was just "pissed", which means something else over here.

  9. Amy Whitson said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 4:33 pm

    Rob–No, Americans definitely say "pissed off" to mean angry as well.

  10. ThomasH said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 4:35 pm

    I try more or less to text as I write, but probably do miss more periods and comas than with a real keyboard and I certainly avoid semicolons, which requires a separate screen. I still use two spaces between sentences, though seeing just one does not sent me into a tizzy of disgust, unlike what seeing two does to some folks

  11. Bloix said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 5:46 pm

    An example of "pissed off" in American usage from a diary at Daily Kos today:

    "[T]here was a full-grown Peregrine Falcon, staring intently at all the people surrounding it, very pissed off. When someone leaned forward with a cellphone for a picture, the Falcon fluttered along the sidewalk, unable to get airborne, and let out an angry screech. It was obviously injured."

  12. Chris C. said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 6:21 pm

    American "pissed" is understood as shorthand for "pissed off". Since "pissed" in AmE does not have any other particular meaning as it does in BrE, it's become fairly common.

  13. David Morris said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 6:32 pm

    Being an Australian male, I don't have periods; I have full stops.

  14. Tim Martin said,

    October 8, 2015 @ 7:44 pm


  15. Bob Basil said,

    October 9, 2015 @ 11:06 am

    In Western Canada "pissed" means "drunk."

  16. BZ said,

    October 12, 2015 @ 8:21 am

    For what it's worth, I use regular punctuation (though not necessarily real sentences with subjects and verbs) within any given text, but I tend to separate sentences (or maybe thoughts would be a better word) by ending a text and starting another (is that what people mean by line breaks?)

  17. Tyler Schnoebelen said,

    October 14, 2015 @ 10:14 am

    When I first read your report of Ben's report, I did a quick couple of experiments:

    It looked like in tweets with emotional content, the most period was disproportionately associated with telling someone off.

    More recently I started looking at how people make "because" statements and was reminded of the idea that subjective markers tend to come from objective markers (Sweetser 1990 and Traugott 1995 are the right citations, I think).

    All that said, I do want to stand firmly against nanodrones as affective linguistic resources {tiny tiny period}

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