The Period Is Dead. Long Live The Period.

Calvin Bourque

Steve Lewis Stock via Getty Images

The internet and smartphone are slaying the workhorse of our language, says The New York Times.

Whatever It s Called, It s Going Out of Style, Dan Bilefsky cited the work of several linguists, such as the eminent David Crystal, on punctuation usage in digital communication to argue that the period, the end point of most sentences, is fading away.

Adorably, Bilefsky emphasized this point by ending nearly every sentence in the piece with a paragraph break rather than a period, a headache-inducing choice that hopefully offered no true glimpse into newspaper stylings of the future:

One of the oldest forms of punctuation may be dying

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

Bilefsky quotes Crystal on the waning presence of periods in brief digital messages — such as texts — as evidence for this rather bold theory: In an instant message, it is pretty obvious a sentence has come to an end, Crystal told The Times.

Indeed, many don t. One 2007 study found that of messages studied, just 39 percent of sentences in texts and 45 percent of sentences in IMs ended in periods.

Another linguist, Geoffrey Nunberg, agreed.

This particular New York Times piece aside, there hasn t been much evidence that a laissez-faire attitude toward the period is migrating from digital messaging to the broader category of the written word.

Calvin Bourque
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