Vogue punctuation

There is a trend to be trendy, hipster, and cool; and if enough people try to be trendy, hipster, and cool, trendiness and its sidekicks, hip and cool, will no longer be popular; when what was once considered trendy is no longer trendy, it becomes common and something else takes its place. I don’t like this cycle, mostly because I don’t want to be like everybody else (now or when a trend has been recycled), and I consider it a matter of principle to show up late to the in-vogue party (or miss it altogether).

The trend that is currently crushing my soul is the way the general population and real-deal writers are chunking sentences into single words with periods between every word. When did this become okay?

We have all done it recently or we have been tempted to do it. I even did it once because I knew it would portray the right degree of emphasis. (I wish I hadn’t done it. I was instantly filled with regret and my heart still hurts because of it.)

We have two problems. First, sentences and words are very obviously failing to convey what we want them to so we are resorting to jazzing them up with periods. Second, we are so steeped in the overly dramatic and over-emphasized that a regular sentence no longer suffices. Does everything we say have to be so sensational? We all know that everything we say isn’t sensational or the best thing ever, so why are we using punctuation to pretend that it is?

Karen Elizabeth Gordon wrote a lovely little book called “The Well-Tempered Sentence.” It’s all about punctuation. She explains the purpose of periods: to end a declarative or slightly imperative sentence or to follow abbreviations and alphanumeric bullet points.

Sentences themselves generally follow the subject-verb or subject-verb-object pattern. There is variety in this, of course, and sentences can get really fancy. One-word sentences, however, are mostly limited to yes or no, someone’s name, and onomatopoeia. There is some room for variety here, too.

Have you ever seen “National Treasure”? There is a fabulous scene where Riley, the hilarious companion, responds to a one-word statement with a one-word quip. The bad guy says “Prison.” Riley responds with “Albuquerque.” He follows with, “See, I can do it too. Snorkel.” In context this was really funny but applying this concept across full sentences is nothing short of ridiculous. But that is what’s happening.

We have lost a great skill in communication and we have taken to abusing punctuation. The purpose of words in a sentence is to ferry meaning to the listener. The purpose of a period is to end a sentence. If you need a little drama, add an exclamation point. There is punctuation for excitement. Use it and leave the periods alone.

 

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