Punctuate!?-,’.:::?

Did you know punctuation has its own national holiday?

Well, it does. And Time Magazine decided to celebrate by writing about a few ways punctuation is rapidly evolving to meet the needs of English writers everywhere:

  • Emoticons are starting to take the place of punctuation. For example, a puzzled or angry face can easily take the place of a question mark or exclamation point to transmit the mood of a message. In fact, today in a Skype conversation with a coworker, I got a message that was simply a smiley face. And I knew exactly what she meant. (Although one does have to be careful with emoticons – what might mean “ha ha funny” to one person could be interpreted as “ha ha I’m laughing at you because you’re such an idiot” to another – thereby creating the potential for life-impacting misunderstandings.)
  • Some punctuation markings are starting to disappear into the abyss of forgotten language. Apostrophes are slip-sliding away in favor of more informal contractions like “imma” “gonna” “dont” and “cant”. Hyphens are all but obsolete (seriously, does anybody still write, “To-day I will send an e-mail while I eat ice-cream made in a test-tube”.) Even question marks are starting to fade away, since sentences like, “Where is my cat” and “Who left the freezer door open” clearly indicate questions even without the punctuation.
  • On the other hand, the exclamation point! Is making a comeback! And it’s stronger than ever! Many linguists have noticed a sharp increase in the use of the exclamation point. The most widely accepted reason for this dramatic rise in written exuberance is simply that people are afraid the emotion of written message will be misinterpreted. For example, signing an email with “Thanks.” simply sounds brusque, short, and frankly unfriendly. Enter the exclamation point – and you now have “Thanks!” (Or “Thanks!!!” if you want to be extra careful). Be cautious with this exciting punctuation mark, though, as overusing an exclamation point can make you seem a bit too, well, perky.

Face it – punctuation isn’t what we first think of when we discuss language evolution. But it is a vital part of a language system and therefore evolves right alongside the rest of it. However, this is no excuse for putting “If Theres a Problem Im Gonna Fix It” on your campaign posters when you run for senator – because some punctuation rules simply mustn’t be broken in formal and professional writing.

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