Portentous periods

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Further developments in the indexicality (intexticality?) of punctuation:

This augurs well for the success of Gretchen McCullough's forthcoming book, Because Internet.

Some background on the topic of orthographic semiotics:

"The new semiotics of punctuation", 11/7/2012
"Aggressive periods and the popularity of linguistics", 11/26/2013
"Generational punctuation differences again", 8/1/2014
"Query: Punctuation in personal digital media", 2/23/2015
"Anticipatory confirmation", 10/7/2015

 



25 Comments

  1. Richard Hershberger said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 8:57 am

    Apart from the mysteries of modern punctuation, what is one supposed to do with "Hey" as a text conversation starter? "Hey" is what you say in the elevator to the guy who works on the same floor and whom you see often enough to have a nodding acquaintance with. It isn't a conversation starter. It is a polite substitute for a conversation.

  2. Sam said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 10:14 am

    I have a friend who frequently texts me just "hey", and it has become apparent that it is used as a shorthand for "are you online right now to have a text message conversation about something" – if I don't answer straight away, he doesn't say anything else; if I do, he then begins a conversation – although how you might know that without multiple exposures is unclear.

  3. D.O. said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 11:06 am

    If her book is titled "Because Internet." it certainly spells doom.

  4. Suburbanbanshee said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 11:44 am

    I have a new flip phone with text capabilities, but there are no instructions how to do it. I know one is supposed to turn the numbers on the keypad into letters. Does anyone have links on how to make letters with this text thing? How does one erase letters without quitting a text message?

    I seem to have missed several decades of this cellphone practice, which is supposed to be intuitive but is not.

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 12:02 pm

    I have only recently and reluctantly been dragged (decades after the rest of the world it seems) into a minimal amount of texting competence, to the amusement and/or relief of my wife and my teenage daughters. One result of this is that I am now focused for the first time on how many text-sending devices have punctuation marks on a different touch-screen keyboard than the basic 26 letters, thus making adding a period at the end of a sentence notably more labor-intensive (because you have to toggle over to the other keyboard) than it is when using a standard typewriter-style keyboard. The comparative costliness of using punctuation compared to doing so using older technology must have something to do with making it more frequently omitted and thus more meaningful when not omitted.

  6. Don said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 12:25 pm

    If you end your texts with a period, the consequence is proud.

  7. MikeA said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 12:44 pm

    @Suburbanbanshee

    There is a common issue with tech evangelists. They say "intuitive" when they mean "familiar, to me and people who count, like me".

    I also use a flip-phone, BTW, reasons :-)

  8. Michael said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 2:58 pm

    @Suburbanbanshee
    There are "new flip phones?"

    That sounds rather like claiming you have a new VCR.

  9. Trogluddite said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 3:05 pm

    @Suburbanbanshee
    You are not alone in experiencing such problems. I only acquired my first cell-phone a little over a year ago. The "quick start" booklet found in the packaging helpfully pointed me to a website from which it promised I could download a comprehensive user guide. However, "comprehensive" it it was not, and sometimes with an element of recursion, whereby instructions for features which *were* described required steps which assumed knowledge of those which were not.

    As a former writer of such documents, these poor examples sometimes send a shiver down my spine as I imagine how many such sins I may have committed myself!

    @Mike A
    In a software/hardware development team that I once worked in, we pondered whether to add "intuitive" to the list of expletives which required a contribution to the "swear box". Still, better than the manager I once had who's entire specification for the appearance of a product was usually "just make it look cool" without so much as an example of another item which he considered "cool looking"!

  10. Dennis Paul Himes said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 3:08 pm

    I would interpret "Hey" the same as Sam. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've sent that sort of "Hey" myself.

  11. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 5:53 pm

    Richard Hershberger: Apart from the mysteries of modern punctuation, what is one supposed to do with "Hey" as a text conversation starter?

    The usual response in my youth was "…is for horses."

    Next, "Well, well, well."

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 6:01 pm

    … to which the usual response in my youth was "three holes in the ground".

  13. Haamu said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 7:26 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: It isn't much, but many phones allow you to hit space twice to get a period (followed by one space).

  14. Bob Couttie said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 7:56 pm

    I had always assume that "Hey" was in the nature of a polite cough signifying one's presence, *cough*, and a desire to speak.

  15. Michael Watts said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 10:50 pm

    Apart from the mysteries of modern punctuation, what is one supposed to do with "Hey" as a text conversation starter? "Hey" is what you say in the elevator to the guy who works on the same floor and whom you see often enough to have a nodding acquaintance with. It isn't a conversation starter. It is a polite substitute for a conversation.

    This is… totally incorrect. "Hey" can be an acknowledgement of the other person's presence, as you describe. But it's much more common as a means of attracting someone's attention. You start with "hey" because you can't just start talking to someone who's not paying attention.

  16. Anna said,

    February 13, 2019 @ 3:15 am

    Hey

    If your text message is just one one word or one simple sentence (simple in the sense no commas needed) you don't use a period. That goes without saying, I'd have thought.

    They don't use periods in newspaper headlines, do they? Well, unless it's one of those two- sentence headlines you see all the time in the NYT.

    Or am I misunderstanding this tweeter?

  17. TIC said,

    February 13, 2019 @ 6:22 am

    "Hey", of course, has all of the varied uses mentioned above… And more…

    Glad to learn, Hamuu, that the key-two-spaces-to-produce-a-period-(and-a-space) thingie is a (consistent) feature and not a (sporadic/glitchy) bug… It'd always seemed like the latter to me…

    In a linked post, there's a mention of using line breaks in lieu of periods… Is that at all common these days?…

    I've always been struck by the fact that, back in the 19th Century, nearly every "printed" group of words — in newspaper heads (and subs, and sub-subs), gravestone and monument inscriptions, book and song titles, etc.) — was followed by a period… And, FWIW, I've searched in vain over the years for any discussion of this old standard, and its eventual decline…

    It's so fun for me (a late-50s WAM) to see the ellipsis as a sentence-ender being discussed — and becoming a bit more common — in recent years and in modern communications… For nearly 40 years now, I've been ending nearly *every* line that I type or key or write or print with three periods (which, of course, get converted into an actual ellipsis by some applications)… It's kinduva long story, but it began in the late 70s/early 80s as a fun affectation — influenced by Larry King via Howard Stern!… And it evolved in short order into such an ingrained routine that eventually, on the occasion that something I was keying would become a formal memo, it was faaar simpler/easier/quicker to just type the three-periods/ellipsis and then go back, in the final step of reviewing/editing, and (either manually or automatically) search'n'replace them with conventional, single periods… (Would that I'd instead learnt to seek'n'destroy excessive punctuation, eh?)..

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    February 13, 2019 @ 8:41 am

    Anna ("If your text message is just one one word or one simple sentence (simple in the sense no commas needed) you don't use a period. That goes without saying, I'd have thought") — that may "go without saying" for those young enough to regard SMS as an intrinsic part of everyday life, but for those of us old enough to have been formally taught English grammar at school, and for whom text messaging is at best something to which one might have recourse in extremis but which otherwise to be avoided like the plague, the idea that a sentence might not need a final period (or other final punctuation, such as a question or exclamation mark) is totally abhorrent.

  19. A. said,

    February 13, 2019 @ 4:07 pm

    When did the Language Log comments section get so prescriptivist and kids-these-days-ish?

  20. Anthony said,

    February 13, 2019 @ 4:23 pm

    In my lifetime (1960s) the New York Times abandoned the period that had followed its name at the top of the the front page.

  21. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 13, 2019 @ 4:57 pm

    Philip Taylor:

    [Well, well, well.]

    … to which the usual response in my youth was "three holes in the ground".

    We may have had the same youth in different countries.

  22. Chandra said,

    February 13, 2019 @ 5:32 pm

    @Anna – The tweeter was of the same mind as you, and thus perplexed that her friend included a period after "Hey" where she would not have expected one. The tweet is her making fun of herself for overreacting.

  23. Philip Anderson said,

    February 14, 2019 @ 8:28 am

    A.
    Language Loggers seem to have been particularly grumpy all week, in a number of posts.

    Personally I don't think a short message calls for a full stop (period), but one sentence or paragraph followed by another does. But to my mind, it should be 'hey!' anyway.

  24. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    February 16, 2019 @ 4:09 pm

    Punctuation is easy on my geriatric flip phone, which I am in the process of replacing. I was surprised when omitting periods became fashionable.

    When I am in "create message" mode, the numeral 1 produces a period with one click and a comma with two clicks in quick succession. That makes it easy to use punctuation, so I am guessing other phones have less convenient protocols. There is also an extensive punctuation menu on the star (asterisk) key on my phone, and this is navigated using the four directional keys around the central control key I push to answer the phone.

    @ Suburbanbanshee —
    My phone keys show the letters and numbers that will show in a message when creating texts. The # key controls capitalization and the zero key adds spaces. Writing is slow because it may take multiple clicks to get one letter. It is necessary to pause between clicks for letters that are grouped under the same numeric key. I don't know if your phone works the same way, but you should be able to experiment once you have gotten to the screen view that allows you to create a message.

    Also, if you do an online search for "how to write a text on a flip phone," there appear to be a lot of videos on YouTube for various models.

  25. Allan from Iowa said,

    February 16, 2019 @ 5:32 pm

    I always end text messages with a period. Not because I'm a stickler for traditional punctuation, but it's a carryover from the flip phone days. My flip phone had an unlabeled context-dependent key at the top center that sometimes meant accept the spell checker correction and sometimes meant send the message. This led to lots of incomplete messages being sent. So the period means "end of message" and if it's missing I accidentally sent too soon.

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