Using periods in text messages signifies anger, according to Ben Crair. In the newest cohort of teens and twentysomethings, period use gives the impression of shutting down a conversation. Well, yeah! This is one of the functions of periods. This development, however, fascinates me because I’ve seen it in professional writing since about 2006:
Nearly everyone has struggled to figure out whether or not a received message is sarcastic. So people began using exclamation points almost as sincerity markers: “I really mean the sentence I just concluded!” (This is especially true of exclamation points used in sequence: “Are you being sarcastic?” “No!!!!!”) And as problems of tone kept arising on text and instant message, people turned to other punctuation marks on their keyboards rather than inventing new ones. The question mark has similarly outgrown its traditional purpose. I notice it more and more as a way to temper straightforward statements that might otherwise seem cocky, as in “I’m pretty sure he likes me?”
An extension, then, of using semicolons to form winks or happy faces. But the point of humor is that the person using it might be serious. Adding winks and question marks is the punctuative equivalent of elbowing a friend’s ribs and saying “Get it? GET IT?!” after a joke.
One more example of my crankhood. “The unpunctuated, un-ended sentence is incredibly addicting,” said Choire Sicha, editor of the Awl, which is akin to arguing that free verse is addictive because it doesn’t rely on rhyme scheme or meter. I don’t get what is incredibly liberating about eschewing punctuation. The marvel of punctuation is figuring out what you’re supposed to do with it: the art of writing sentences, couched or toughened or mediated by punctuation, that deserve rereading for their wit or insight. This shit matters less in texts or Gchats. But why shouldn’t it?