Texting Celebrates a Birthday, But It’s Trying to Kill the Period
As texting turns 25, there’s continued concern about the use of periods to end sentences because of the way such ‘complete’ sentences are perceived.
On December 3, 1992, the era of texting began when the first SMS was sent.
I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath from the shocking thought that 1992 was a full 25 years ago.
SMS, it’s worth noting, stands for “short message service.” As CNet tells it, a British engineer sent that first message, “Merry Christmas,” to an executive of Vodafone, who was attending his company’s Christmas party. The Vodafone executive, unfortunately, was not able to respond to the engineer’s text message because at that point, there was no way to do so.
The engineer sent the message to the man’s phone from a PC; phones, at that point, did not have any way to send one back.
How things have changed!
I’ve walked through airports and seen people typing away at frightening speed without even looking at where their hands are racing across those tiny keyboards. I can’t even begin to imagine how many grammatical and spelling errors might be perpetrated on an average day via texting.
But these days, making a mistake in such communications is almost considered some cause for celebration in which people can unfurl the tired excuse about “being on their phone” so that no one would dare criticize messages typed too fast and too imprecisely.
Texting’s assault on basic grammar
It’s likely among the first things one learns about the English language: a sentence ends with a period. Of course, some sentences might end with a question (if it’s a question) or an exclamation point (if it’s an exclamation). But for most sentences, a period does nicely to signal one thought is over and the next one is about to begin.
Except in texting, the trend is to drop such a simple little marker.
It’s a controversy that even affects a former United States first family. Speaking in India a few days ago, former U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters he uses spellcheck and punctuation when he tweets, something he says his daughters think is “odd:”
“They were explaining to us how if you put a period at the end of a sentence it sounds harsh. I said, ‘No, that’s English. That’s how you know the thought is finished.’”
I use spellcheck and grammar when I send a text as well. Yes, an occasional misspelling or wrong word does get through, but that’s when I’m not being as careful as I think I should be. And when an error does get through, I shamefully send a correction, even when I’m certain the receiver of the message knows exactly what I meant to say.
And yes, I also use periods at the ends of sentences.
I don’t really understand people who refuse to, nor do I understand why people think it would be better to send messages without proper punctuation.
Believe me: I see plenty of that in messages we receive at work, and they appear to be long, rambling stream-of-consciousness messages that can give you a headache in about fifteen seconds as you try to decipher where one thought ends and the next begins.
So, as I celebrate the 25th birthday of texting, I also encourage everyone to stop abandoning proper punctuation out of fear of looking “harsh.”
You won’t. You’ll look educated, which used to be considered a good thing.
Punctuation is not your enemy. Period.