Science Explains Why You Hate When People Use Periods in Their Texts


Ending a text message with a period is basically the same thing as ending a text message with a screenshot of an iPhone note that says, "Listen, I hate you." 

Most civilized and considerate people know this, so they will either eschew punctuation in their texts altogether or feign enthusiasm with an exclamation point as a way to assure the person on the receiving end that they are, indeed, chill.

But if you still haven't figured this out on your own and you're one of those period-using people, perhaps this will persuade you to stop texting like an asshole. Linguists have a new explanation for why we hate when people use periods in texts — and basically, it's because using a period makes you sound angry or insincere.

"The use of the period is one example of situational code-switching," linguistic scholar Lauren Collister wrote in a recent article on the Conversation. (For the record, situational code-switching is the act of [consciously or unconsciously] adjusting the way you communicate based on the setting you're in and whom you're talking to.) 

"When using [a period] in a text message, it's perceived as overly formal," Collister wrote. "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."

In an email to Mic, Collister added that she thinks it's also the brief nature of text messages — as opposed to a lengthy email, for instance — that makes periods look so jarring.

"Text [messages] and many other online forms of communication are intended to be brief, and adding a period which signals 'the end' is for many users a conscious choice and can communicate a message like, 'I'm really done talking about this,'" she said.

This isn't the first time researchers have sought to explain why periods are so bad. Last year, an entire study from Binghamton University was devoted to the topic. Researchers had 126 college-aged subjects read through a series of text exchanges to determine how sincere each of them seemed based on their punctuation. To no one's surprise, the results indicated that "responses that ended with a period were rated as less sincere than text messages that did not end with a period."

Lead researcher Celia Klin suggested that this was because people have less social cues to go off of in texts. Barring these cues, the period ultimately evolved into a sign of anger and loathing.

"When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses and so on," she said in a press release at the time. "People obviously can't use these mechanisms when they are texting. Thus, it makes sense that texters rely on what they have available to them — emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and, according to our data, punctuation."

So now that we have a few explanations for why period-texters always sound like they're wishing a pox upon you, here's a question: What are you actually supposed to do when, say, your latest Tinder match texts you "haha." or "see you later." or, horror of horrors, "k."? Tell him that he sounds like an asshole? Block him? Send him a box of poop?

Collister recommends not getting too bent out of shape.

"I think keeping an open mind is important in all of these scenarios," she said. "Everybody has a different style — some people use periods at the end of every message because they have been taught formal writing and value that kind of style, not because they are trying to be rude or stifle conversation. Some people don't use periods at the end of every message because they use a more casual style of writing in online communication... Just like we all have a different way of speaking, we are all developing different styles of writing in text."

Fair, I guess. But it's still a worthy endeavor to strive for a world in which periods are banned from texts altogether, just so we're all on the same page — er, text.

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