Ben Crair traces the mood shift that electronic communication has thrust upon the the humble period in "The Period, Our Simplest Punctuation Mark, Has Become a Sign of Anger." Since text messaging and twitter have rendered the period useless, Crair explains, the unexpected appearance of the period now carries a new meaning of finality that can seem downright angry.
Crair goes on to point out how the trend of replicating face-to-face speech in written text is also changing the way we use the ellipsis and the exclamation point. With the period taking on this annoyed tone, the ellipsis is seeing more frequent use as a gentle sentence ender. At the same time, Since sarcasm and irony can be more difficult to detect in text, people have begun using exclamation points as marks of sincerity.
"An American University study of college students’ texting and instant messaging habits found they only used sentence-final punctuation 39 percent of the time in texts and 45 percent of the time in online chats."
This is a real testament to the power that context has on language. Here the tension between face-to-face communication, written communication, formal and informal speech is powerful enough to unpack meaning from the most meaningless of symbols.
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