Saturday, August 15, 2020

About punctuation and masks

As is the way of such things, the above tweet prompted first healthy respectful discussion and disagreement and then within hours things got nasty and Ms Cosslett deleted the whole thing. My response was that yes, I’d become aware of this a few years ago when a younger colleague asked if she’d done something to annoy me. It turned out that my use of (what I thought was) correct punctuation had expressed grumpiness too her; as if I need a full stop to be grumpy.

Cosslett’s real point was that online communication is developing as a distinct linguistic ecosystem and rules that apply elsewhere don’t necessarily need to be used. But why, I wonder, do “younger people” get to call the shots? They didn’t invent the medium. I first sent a tweet in 2006, a text message in 2000, an e-mail in about 1992 and nobody back then told me I overpunctuated. I’ve learned not to call people out for their spelling/grammar infelicities (unless they’re criticising educational standards or the supposed poor English of immigrants, in which case they deserve both barrels) so I’m rather hostile to the idea that I might be called out for actually getting things right.

Is the problem, I wonder, that younger users perceive orthodox punctuation, sentence structure, capitalisation, etc as a passive-aggressive rebuke to their own, apparently more free-form language? Deep down they know they’re in the wrong, but they project their self-loathing outwards because it feels better that way. A bit like – in the context of the current pandemic – non-mask-wearers yelling abuse at those who cover up. As also happened to me yesterday, by a charming gentleman who wished to inform me that covid is a myth created by the Illuminati and something vaccine something Stonehenge blah blah sorry I can’t hear you with my mask on. And no full stops.

PS: More here, from proper academics and that.


broken biro said...

Gosh, I didn't know this. You just inspired me to blog about this too!

As languages evolve, I suppose realistically it is always 'younger people' who are the ones who instigate the changes. We old codgers don't suddenly say... 'I've been ending my sentences with a full stop for fifty years and I’m sick of it!'

I fear for the apostrophe..

Roger Allen said...


Tim F said...

BB: Exactly. In the absence of a linguistic dictator (cf the Académie Française) all change is gradual, push-and-pull stuff.

Roger: Still the case in some languages, e.g. Thai.