It's hard to be a passive-aggressive person in an age of waning face-to-face communication, all but robbed of the microexpressions you need to make people feel bad without actually saying anything. Thank goodness our old dotty end of sentence friend the period is here to help.
At least, that's according to The New Republic, which today ran a fascinating piece that observes ending a text with a period has become a new dismissive eyeroll. Here's Ben Crair, on periods as a sadmaking force:
In most written language, the period is a neutral way to mark a pause or complete a thought; but digital communications are turning it into something more aggressive. "Not long ago, my 17-year-old son noted that many of my texts to him seemed excessively assertive or even harsh, because I routinely used a period at the end," Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, told me by email. How and why did the period get so pissed off?
Crair asserts that periods — in standard written communication a requirement — are optional via text message because textspeak follows different rules than prose speak. Line breaks have replaced other punctuation, and thus a texter inserting a period at the end of a statement adds a deliberate finality absent from standard texts. Receiving a text that reads "Thanks." rather than "Thanks" forces the recipient to wonder why, why, WHY did you opt to add a dot at the end? Are you mad? Are we breaking up? Oh god we're totally breaking up! What did I do?!? etc.
Ugh. Periods, amirite, ladies?
Crair has a point that periods provide dissatisfied texters a way to get their irritated ya-yas out without Starting A Whole Thing about being upset, shorthand for a person who wishes to convey "this response is curt and clipped" absent vocal and facial cues. Ubiquitous smartphone technology offers society many benefits — ease in communication, less need to look at other people in the face, a way for the government to basically track and record all of your communications (Bonus!), but it's not good for the sort of person accustomed to reducing a person to tears using only their face. It's only natural that something would arise to fill the vacuum of the pursed-lipped head shake. The averted-widening-of-the-eyes.
Then again, there are plenty of alternate explanations for a text period besides "THAT PERSON MUST BE MAD!" Maybe placing periods at the end of text messages just means that a texter is so devout to the church of proper grammar that they're willing to go microseconds out of their way to capitalize and punctuate texts (my mother— a school administrator — does this, and it always reads to me like old Puritan writings utilizing nonstandard spellings where Moste All Wordes Arre Capitalyz'd, Fore The Glorye of the Lorde Savyore). It also could be unconscious. Awhile back I found myself on a delayed train with only a Hemmingway book, and I got so short sentence-drunk on the prose that for a few days I had a punctuate-my-texts hangover. I wasn't mad at anyone. Maybe people thought I was. It was all very different after the war. So we drank. Gah I'm doing it again.
So maybe the period isn't always the angry face Crair et al suspect it may be. But take heart, passive aggressive texters — you'll always have the power of a text that simply reads "k".
The above texts were a fake fight simulation of a passive aggressive text conversation. No Madeleine Davieses were hurt in the making of this post.