Periods Always Matter (Notes On Ideology And Language)

RE: “Stop. Using. Periods. Period.” | The Washington Post

1) If the only reason to put “an end to the period” (get it?) is brevity or speed of communication, then no. Perhaps there’s too much speed, in the sense that speed should not be the logic of every process or practice birthed in this century. And if this is true, then there’s too much brevity, as well. Not enough time to consider all the chatter that can so easily be like static from a far away radio. Not enough time to consider what might be missing in addition to what’s right in front of us. This is why I need periods, and will continue to do so. And if you’ve read this far, then this may be why you need periods, too. They are breaths taken to carve out time to consider how deeply things are connected.

2) However, what I don’t like is the presumption of what a period can or should mean in an instant or text message. If other, much more complex aspects of English are easily apprehended, then a period in an instant or text message in what would otherwise be its proper context given the writer’s intentions shouldn’t be a problem at all. By contrast, when some Gen-Xer like me uses “like” I know that it’s not being used as someone much younger might use it. Likewise, I’m not so under-exposed to modern usage to assume that up-speak is an interrogative. (Although I sometimes act that way to piss off teenagers, who aren’t as quick on the uptake as advertised.) People who can’t get that periods can be used in different ways and contexts are as annoying as young people who say “I don’t know what that is” when a person or event outside their immediate experience is mentioned, as if that kind of ignorance could (and should) actually be a virtue.

3) There’s something deeper going on in this and other articles about the period, like this one, and this one. I sense in them the perhaps too prevalent idea that openness and unboundedness in all things is the optimal mode of living for individuals and a good thing for society. I challenge this idea, and challenge even more the idea behind the idea—that cultural change for its own sake tends to be good—as both a potential threat to values I hope will never change (individual freedom, for instance), and as a sign of the sort of decadence that leads to “de-cohesion.”

4) An essential aspect of that downward slide is the idea that the young are the only drivers of cultural production and change worth taking seriously. While this has never been true, our economic condition needs Millennials to believe it’s true so that they’ll buy and consume as much as possible, particularly things that put them into debt. This is a media, advertising, and ideologically driven process. Consequently, this “Millennial narrative”—in which even seemingly innocuous articles about the death of the period have a part to play—will be looked upon as the largest psychological operation marketing campaign in human history.

5) Periods are limits, in that they challenge one to construct a complete thought that has actual content. But they are also gateways, because we build arguments with sentences. With those arguments we change minds. And when we change minds, we change the world.


IMAGE SOURCE: By John William Orr (1815-1887) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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