It seems like everywhere I turn lately, I learn about some other aspect of communication that I’m doing wrong. I value face-to-face communication. When I send an email, the subject line is relevant to the email’s content. The email itself contains more than a single thought or idea. It is probably written in paragraphs, which are in turn composed of complete sentences, using capitalization, spelling and punctuation according to the generally accepted rules of American grammar. I’ve even been known to (cover your ears, Mabel) use capital letters, fully spelled-out words, and punctuation in text messages.
Now, I’m not a complete fogey. It doesn’t bother me to receive texts or casual emails that are written in all lowercase or use abbreviations for common words. It’s just that I learned how to type on a typewriter back in the Stone Age, and I can type 92 words a minute accurately. Capital letters, commas, and proper spelling take less time for me to type than it would to force myself NOT to do those things. So is there a problem if I prefer to compose “proper” messages, as long as I’m not judging people who don’t? I didn’t used to think so, but now I’m not so sure.
I don’t care if people think I’m an old fossil for the way I write. (We can just add that to the other perfectly good reasons people have for thinking that.) But it turns out that a consensus seems to have developed that using punctuation, particularly in text messages, is considered hostile. That’s the assertion of Ben Crair, writing last year in The New Republic. I’ll let his opening paragraph speak for itself:
The period was always the humblest of punctuation marks. Recently, however, it’s started getting angry. I’ve noticed it in my text messages and online chats, where people use the period not simply to conclude a sentence, but to announce “I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.”
Hostile? It’s hard enough to convey tone in written communication, but now I have to worry that one of the standard symbols of punctuation is considered hostile? I’ve never heard anyone else express this thought, but maybe they’re too busy sniggering at my capital letters and carefully hyphenated compound adjectives to tell me that I’m pissing off the whole world, one text at a time.
So I’m asking you to give it to me straight. Is using periods in texts considered an expression of anger? Do I owe everyone in my phone’s address book an apology? What other unwritten rules of written communication have I been merrily abusing? Don’t hold back; I can take it. It might not be too late for this old dog to learn a few new tricks.