Punctuation habits in the text and email era - New York News

Punctuation habits in the text and email era

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The exclamation point, the most fashionable character in punctuation today, earned its own key on a typewriter not even 50 years ago.

"More than one is for emphasis," a young man at the corner of Broadway and Houston told us, Monday morning.

E-mailers, instant-messagers and texters likely invented that rule, by which just one mark separates "sure" from "sure!" and "sure!!!!!!!"

In this exclamatory new world, we often stress more about punctuation than actual word choice, many time surrendering and just using an emoticon instead.

"Just using the standard ending punctuation of a period," Vocabulary.com Executive Producer Ben Zimmer said, "may actually seem kind of standoffish."

A linguist and lexicographer, Zimmer watches the digital popularity of the exclamation point with a wary eye.

"Consider the semicolon," he said.

And that's the point: We rarely do. Nor do we find the interrobang, the pilcrow or the manicule on our keyboards.

"There have been lots of trends in punctuation," Zimmer said.

Finding "#punctuation" anywhere on your Twitter feed would likely mean the microblogging platform's fallen out of favor with its hippest users. But just as the exclamation point helps us to differentiate "dinner tonight" from "dinner tonight!!!!" in the subject line of an e-mail, capitalizing and adding extra letters can turn "bro" into "brooooo" and "buhhh-ROOOO" in an instant message.

"Alright," our friend on the corner of Broadway and Houston said, "so if I'm texting a lady friend and I say 'meet me today,' I might capitalize the 'MEET' and it might draw attention to the fact that I want to meet her."

"I think you don't want to sound overly excited," a woman at the same location said.

Personal punctuation strategies may vary, but all of us likely communicate faster and more often than any generation of humans before us. So, while exclamation points pop up in bunches today, the trendy marks of old (we're looking at you, interrobang) might warn that character: No piece of punctuation stays in vogue forever. Period.

"The way that we punctuate our language is constantly changing," Zimmer said.

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