Did you know today’s teens increasingly see the use of full stops in online communications as abrupt, angry or passive-aggressive?
A debate has erupted on Twitter (where else?) when linguists discussed how older people sending messages with a full stop may be unaware that its use could come across as unfriendly.
In a world of texts and instant messages, the default for many young people is to end a message by simply stopping writing and sending it. In this context, if you choose to add a full stop it has meaning. You will be leading the recipient to work out why it’s there. This can be construed as a form of aggression or emphasised formality. It’s seen as being like insisting “End of” to signal there will be no more debate on the issue.
The linguist Lauren Fonteyn tweeted, “If you send a message without a full stop, it’s already obvious that you’ve concluded the message. So if you add that additional marker for completion, they will read something into it and it tends to be a falling intonation or negative tone.”
Jack Grieve, a professor of corpus linguistics at the University of Birmingham, explained the development. He said that the steady omission of the full stop is likely to have originated from constraints such as the old character count on Twitter or the need to type text messages on a phone’s keypad. However, it has now morphed into having extra meaning.
He says, “I think from there, it then picks up social meaning. If adults are including full stops but teenagers aren’t, then it suddenly picks up associations with informality and youthfulness,” he said. “Once it becomes accepted you don’t use a full stop, then choosing to use one becomes meaningful. And from there, a natural meaning that you could take from it would be something like definitiveness or abruptness.”
Consequently, on Twitter people who want to appear youthful are now likely to drop the full stop to avoid appearing old-fashioned (or simply old).
The current debate is nothing new. A 2013 article in New York magazine explained that “a period (full stop) in a text carries more weight than a period in an email.”
And if you want to appear younger than your years, avoid text-speak abbreviations at all costs! Once used to save time and money, ‘shortcuts’ like “GR8 2 C U” will now merely identify you as an out-of-touch adult.
And in the eyes of a young person, there can surely be no greater insult.
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