James Lileks
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I have finally learned to let go of punctuation while texting

You, on the other hand ... Keeping doing this ... Stop it

Let me explain. A recent post on Reddit said, "TIL periods in text messages signal I am old." (TIL means Today I Learned, and if you didn't know that, well, TYL.)

The post: "I went through all of my texts and sure as (redacted), my twenty-something co-workers as well as my kids do NOT end text messages with periods. They use a period inside of text messages, but almost never end text messages with a period. Why is this a thing?"

It is a thing indeed. I can verify its thing status. I thought this was well known, but apparently not — so it's time for some remedial education.

When texting with other people in my age bracket, which can be defined as "Plan B does not mean a backup course of action," I use punctuation. When texting with Daughter, who is, of course, younger, I do not, because it changes the meaning of the message.

For example:

Call your mom

That's a basic request. It pains me I should have to remind you, but that's another column. With proper punctuation:

Call your mom.

That is stern and ominous. Your hands are folded across your chest, and you are not happy.

Call your mom!

She got in a car wreck and would really like to hear from you, and you'll have to talk loud over the sound of the beeping hospital machines.

Question marks are different, though.

Did you eat the last yogurt has the ring of stunned disbelief. Did you eat the last yogurt? is a mild inquiry. Did you eat the last yogurt?? connotes anger. Did you eat the last yogurt????????????? suggests you have a particle of dust under the key that is making it stick; try compressed air.

As for all caps, it either means anger or mock anger. Context helps. DID YOU EAT THE LAST YOGURT / YES I ATE THE LAST YOGURT is mock-fury banter between a secure, affectionate couple. It also could be a sign that a divorce is imminent.

It's easy to learn to forgo punctuation. When in doubt, just channel your inner existentialist, and let your statement end with nothingness. And no, I do not know if people can have an outer existentialist. I don't know where you'd keep him. In a Baby Bjorn, perhaps.

What my generation needs to do is stop with the ellipses. You know what I mean:

LOL the Vikes making us get up our hopes again, fool me once ...


Yeah well I didn't vote for him, couldn't care less, don't have a pony in this dogfight ...

At best, you sound like someone puttering around talking to themselves, or someone falling asleep in the middle of the conversation. At worst, it's passive-aggressive: I didn't really mean that sentiment entirely, or I would have ended with an exclamation point! Just sayin'!

It makes me wish the Interrobang had been successful. It's a combination of an exclamation point and a question mark. Something you add to indicate surprise and keen interest that surpasses your expectations and paradigms. It was introduced in 1962 by an ad man named Martin Speckter, but it never caught on. It's the Esperanto of punctuation marks.

Remarkable, when you think of it: We haven't had any successful innovations in sentence-ending characters, but we have replaced them with round yellow faces that squint as huge teardrops squirt out of their ears.

Anyway. All of these rules will be annoying to a strict grammarian. If you are texting with someone who wants to uphold the old rules as a bulwark against illiterate barbarous abbreviated blurts, end your text with a semi-colon. It'll drive them nuts, because they'll think you've something more to say;

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks