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Linguists Explain Why Ending Texts with Periods Makes You Sound Insincere



Have you ever ended a text with an exclamation mark because a period would be too harsh? Or just didn’t use a period at all because you didn’t want to sound like a jerk, even if it’s clear in context that you don’t mean to be? This piece by Lauren Collister from The Conversation cites several linguists and delves into why ending sentences with periods feels wrong.

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Mark Liberman explains that the period signals “the end of the discussion,” making the texter appear cold or detached. Psychologist Danielle Gunraj also tested the use of messages that used a period and found that participants found these sentences more insincere in text, but not in hand-written messages. As a result, it seems like it’s not the messages themselves, but rather how they’re being delivered.

This is what linguist John J. Gumperz calls “situational code-switching.” The article states:

The use of the period is one example of situational code-switching: When using one in a text message, it’s perceived as overly formal. So when you end your text with a period, it can come across as insincere or awkward, just like using formal spoken language in a casual setting like a bar.

While many accustomed to texting are probably aware of this effect, it is an interesting look at how writing has become a less formal mode of communication and how social conversations change through digital media.

Of course, ending a sentence with a period is second only to the offense of using ellipses at inappropriate moments (“We need to talk…”). Watch your texting etiquette, y’all. I recommend reading the full article which also dives into how this language influences writing skills and discusses the exclamation point.

(via NY Mag, Image via Jhaymesisviphotography on Flickr)

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