"Say it ain't so, Joe," read the headline in the Chicago Daily News referring to Shoeless Joe Jackson's alleged involvement in the 1919 World Series scandal, in which the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the Series to the Cincinnati Reds
Well, in reference to reports that the period, that noble punctuation mark, is going out of style, I say, "It ain't so"
Or to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated
Until written language changes so fundamentally that rhythm, inflection, nuance and subtlety no longer matter, the period — along with the comma, the question mark, the exclamation mark, the ellipsis, the colon and the semicolon — is here to stay
It's true that you can sometimes get along without periods, as I'm doing in this column, and as Dan Bilefsky did in his June 9 New York Times article titled, "Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It's Called, It's Going Out of Style," and you're probably able to read what I'm writing just fine
So why use periods? Or any other punctuation mark?
Because when we transcribe spoken language to written language, we lose something crucial We lose the sound of language Punctuation makes up in part for that loss It indicates the inflection, timing and rhythm of spoken language It approximates the intricacy and beauty of the human voice It gives us control, nuance and subtlety
Without the period, we lose clarity Compare the title of Bilefsky's article as punctuated above (with periods) with this version (without periods): "Period Full Stop Point Whatever It's Called, It's Going Out of Style" I don't know about you, but without periods I have to work harder to get the meaning
Periods, like all closing marks, create pauses, and pauses create emphasis Compare the unshaped version of this sentence, "Democracy depends on one thing, which is civil discourse," with this version, "Democracy depends on one thing: civil discourse" If you don't like the colon, try a dash Either way, without punctuation, we lose rhythm and emphasis Imagine music with no accented notes
The research Bilefsky cites in his article is more complex and interesting than I'm able to address here, but some of it is based on the changing punctuation practices in students' text messages, where the "repurposed" period has taken on a different "semantic force" and "is being deployed as a weapon to show irony, syntactic snark, insincerity, even aggression"
I agree that punctuation practices are changing in interesting ways in short forms such as students' text messages, but I reject the notion that the period is going out of style in long form communication Consider traffic signs Have you ever seen a stop sign with a period? Stop. Or an exclamation mark? Stop! Has their omission caused you to drop them from your writing?
So if Bilefsky and others are suggesting that changes in how we punctuate short-form communication will determine how we punctuate long-form communication, I say no, it ain't so
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.