By Margaret Evans, Editor
I don’t know about the rest of you internet junkies, but early morning is my prime time for scrolling. I get up before everybody else, brew myself some coffee, settle down at my computer with a hot mug - and two squares of Dove dark chocolate - and start scrolling away.
Thursday was one of those luck-kissed mornings when a theme emerged before I’d poured my second cup - or even unwrapped my second square. For a columnist staring at a deadline, themes are a gift from the gods. Or maybe just a gift from Mark Zuckerberg.
(Since Facebook has stolen my concentration, my information, and possibly my soul, the least Zuck can do is offer up a good theme now and again, right?)
First I came across a clever essay in the Washington Post called “Stop. Using. Periods. Period.” The subhead read, “The period is vanishing, and it’s great” (There was no period after “great.” None. Whatsoever.)
The gist of the article? Thanks to the popularity of text messaging, and its youthful contempt for periods, the “full stop” at the end of a sentence is becoming a thing of the past. And apparently, that too is a thing of the past. According the WaPo writer, Jeff Guo, written language used far fewer periods – and far fewer rules – before the invention of the printing press. The rise of mass printing changed everything. Where once written communication had been a super-expressive, free-style free-for-all (to hear Guo tell it, anyway), it now became stodgy and standardized - with strict rules for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. And so it remained for many a century. But according to Guo, text messaging and other recent trends in punctuation “hark back to that age when people used punctuation in more liberal and creative ways.” He says language is becoming looser, and therefore richer, and we should all celebrate this development.
I’m on the fence. I don’t like to be school-marmish, and I’m a big fan of strategic writerly rule-breaking (if you know the rules), but I can’t help thinking all those rules arose for a reason. Should we really be so blithe about casting them aside? Is “harking back” actually moving forward, as Guo claims? And do we really want to live in a world where sentences never end?
As I pondered these questions, I scrolled my way to another article on my newsfeed. The headline read, “NPR: 25 Million Votes For Clinton ‘Completely Fake’ – She Lost Popular Vote.” Below that, was a summary claiming, “
While musing on these connections, I came upon a third story. It was beautifully written, informative, incisive – and chock full of periods and other comforting punctuation marks. It was an essay by Brady Kiesling, an American diplomat in Greece, called “Being Honorable.”
The essay was long and complicated, full of historical references, literary allusions, and emotional nuance. Kiesling traced the history of honor – in the world, and in his own life – and made a pretty good case that we’ve suffered a breakdown of honor in our era – a “loosening,” you could say – in both the private and public spheres.
“Perhaps the concept of personal honor – once a crucial point of common ground between genuine liberals and genuine conservatives in Congress, and society as a whole – is on its deathbed, collateral or intentional damage from the ‘populist’ movement that empowered the current Congress,” writes Kiesling.
He ends his dark piece on a hopeful note, though, invoking Tolkien - which is never a bad move:
“We live not in the twilight of Gondor, with the Dark Lord Sauron marshaling his hordes to attack us, but in a well-peopled superpower, with untapped natural resources, deep reservoirs of underused talent, and no enemies but those we cross oceans and deserts to seek out. Our vast capacity to behave with courage and decency must empower us. We should insist on America first – an honorable community of honorable citizens of an honorable country. We must be governed by hope rather than by fear, because our honor, and with it our health and our happiness and possibly our survival as a people, depends on it.”
I agree. So I will not be participating in The Loosening. I will continue to discredit fake news whenever I see it, I will attempt to behave honorably, even as those around me descend into insults, profanity, and partisan vitriol. And I will never, ever stop ending my sentences with a period. Period.
It’s a small, quiet rebellion. But it’s mine.