Why do young people find the full stop aggressive?

Kate Fowler August 25, 2020
Why do young people find the full stop aggressive?

According to new reports, young people now find the full stop aggressive, but why is this?

‘The gram’, ‘salty’ and ‘on fleek’ all mean something completely different now to 10 years ago thanks to changes in the digital climate. But did you know punctuation has become an battleground of digital linguistic changes too?

Once used only to signify the end of a sentence, the full stop is now an emotion signifier, often to mark anger or upset within a text message. Allegedly, for a generation who grew up on instant messaging, whether that be the days of MSN or a TikTok direct message, pressing send is enough of a signifier to end a sentence, meaning the full stop becomes derelict. As a consequence, a user going out of their way to add one often carries meaning and appears abrupt.

The debate of the full stop’s new found meaning was sparked again when The Telegraph reported that linguistic Dr Lauren Fonteyn tweeted, “If you send a text message without a full stop, it’s already obvious that you’ve concluded the message. So if you add that additional marker for completion, they will read something into it and it tends to be a falling intonation or negative.”

Photo by YouVersion on Unsplash.

Evidence of the change

In a 2015 study by Binghamton University in New York, they found that people tend to perceive messages with full stops as less sincere than those without. The study involved 126 undergraduates reading various messages with and without full stops, and was led by Celia Klin.

In the study publication, Klin says, “Texting is lacking many of the social cues used in actual face-to-face conversations. When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses, and so on. People obviously can’t use these mechanisms when they are texting. Thus, it makes sense that texters rely on what they have available to them — emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and, according to our data, punctuation.”

The Telegraph also reported that one of the world’s leading linguists, Professor David Crystal, also believes the full stop’s meaning is changing. In his 2015 book Making a Point, he explained that people use the punctuation as an “emotion marker” to signify anger or annoyance.

The book states, “You look at the internet or any instant messaging exchange —anything that is a fast dialogue taking place. People simply do not put full stops in, unless they want to make a point. The full stop is now being used in those circumstances as an emotion marker.”

Cropped shot of a group of colleagues using their smart phones in synchronicity

Is the full stop always aggressive?

A University of Cambridge linguist, Owen McArdle, reportedly told The Telegraph, “I’m not sure I agree about emails. I guess it depends how formal they are. But full stops are, in my experience, very much the exception and not the norm in [young people’s] instant messages, and have a new role in signifying an abrupt or angry tone of voice.”

So, full stops in an email are still okay, but instant messages are a no go.

This linguistic knowledge might help to lessen the digital generational gap, just a teeny bit. Just whatever you do, do not ‘K.’ someone (unless you mean to).

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Kate is a fashion journalism graduate from London College of Fashion with an untouchable knowledge of pop culture. Her eye for the strange corners of the internet have resulted to huge-hitting articles while she has also written features for Vice. The solar system might make your world go round, but writing about the internet, music and celebrities has Kate in orbit.