Binghamton University Psychology Department, Codswallop, Gretchen McCulloch, Social media linguistics, Terminating full stop, Terminating period, Textspeak
Codswallop: nonsense, absurd, ludicrous…
Is there an antonym for codswallop? What would you suggest? Merriam-Webster offers near-antonyms such as rationality, reasonability and common sense, as does Power Thesaurus but most other synonym and antonym websites don’t even recognise the word codswallop, let alone suggest an antonym.
‘Why do you ask?’ you ask. Because I got it wrong in my previous blog titled What a load of codswallop. Seriously wrong. In this blog I remarked on a BBC report in which Internet linguist, Gretchen McCulloch, was quoted as saying that ending a short text reply on, say, iMessage or WhatsApp, with a full stop (period) is considered rude. Her claim was backed up by a 2015 paper written by members of the Psychology Department at Binghamton University, the content of which the BBC summarised as:
A 2015 study by Binghamton University involving 126 undergraduates found they perceived text messages ending in a full stop as being less sincere than the same message without a full stop.
I countered this claim by saying that the omission of a closing full stop was simply laziness and in no way did the inclusion of a full stop signify insincerity. That’s where I got it wrong but before I explain why, let me outline what I did.
I ‘interviewed’ all four of my granddaughters, two of whom, the 20-year-old and 18-year-old, are devoted ardent users of social media apps, particularly Snapchat and, to a lesser extent, WhatsApp and iMessage. The 13-year-old and 11-year-old are less addicted but the addiction is growing and, since they are bilingual, they message in both English and French.
I also said that I may obtain a copy of the 2015 paper and dig deeper into the experiment and conclusion. I’ve done that insofar as I now have a copy of the paper but I’ve not yet read it so what follows in Part 1 below is not influenced by its content. Part 2 may follow as a separate blog when I’ve read the paper.
Here’s what I found from the discussions with my granddaughters.
Pre-2015 paper assessment
My two adult granddaughters use social media constantly to stay in touch with the members of their social groups – university, college, workmates (both granddaughters work part time), and family. They treat social media as a quick-fire way of text-talking with someone. Messages are very short (I described them as terse in my earlier blog) and designed to replace face-to-face dialogue. They are not intended to be word-perfect pieces of prose. There is no need for accurate punctuation, either internal or terminating, unless needed to convey an emotion. Hence, a question mark, exclamation mark (usually in multiples), an X (kiss), or emoji is okay but a full stop is not needed. The message is short and ends where it ends – period! Rather than compose a short paragraph containing a number of sentences, the preference is to fire off brief one-liners and wait for a reply before continuing the conversation.
Hence, a paragraph like this that might appear in an email thus:
Hi. Fancy a pizza down at Prezzo or Dominos? If so, at what time? I’ve got homework to finish first!
… will appear something like this on a social media platform, with replies in similar vein:
fancy a pizza? SEND
prezzo or dominos SEND
i’ve got homework to finish first! SEND
text me when done REPLY
Note, no capitals (unless by default) or punctuation marks but apostrophes are usually inserted in contractions. Note also, virtually no abbreviated or acronymic forms. In the examples I looked at (with permission) on my granddaughters’ accounts, there was almost no use of the extreme net lingo acronyms and abbreviations such a LOL, ROFL, BFF or BTW that you will find on this website .
You see what’s happening here. The dialogue is as close to real time conversation as possible and, as such, the normal rules of grammar and punctuation do not apply, just as they don’t apply in speech. (When we speak, we ‘um’ and ‘ah’; create incomplete and, often, grammatically incorrect sentences; punctuation is implied by pauses; and emotion conveyed by the volume, pitch and tone of our voice.) Both adult granddaughters remarked that when they are writing normally, an essay or a formal email for example, then the rules of grammar apply. But not so for exchanges on a social media platform. When asked why the messages are not terminated with a full stop, one granddaughter remarked, ‘It is not necessary,’ and the other, ‘It makes the message look abrupt.’ ‘What about when I send you a message and terminate with a full stop? Do you think I am being abrupt, or rude?’ I asked. ‘No. You’re Grandad. That’s what you do and we don’t take offence.’ The generation gaps, two in my case, are alive and flourishing in the literary world.
Incidentally, the two younger bilingual granddaughters adopted the same style for both languages. The only difference was the vocabulary and, in the French texts, lack of accents.
So, there you have it. Messaging via social media is a whole new can of worms. For someone like me, a septuagenarian who treats everything I write, even a grocery list, as a literary work of art, it’s difficult to appreciate the nuances of this form of textspeak, but as an author I appreciate that language and its forms of delivery are constantly changing. Looking back at some of the social media dialogue threads I’ve had with my granddaughters, I now see very clearly how they speak to me and I to them. My grammatically-correct and nicely-punctuated prose comes across as stiff and starchy compared to their fluid free-form snappy responses and yet I understand them and they me and none of us are offended by the differences in style.
Language development is truly a fascinating subject. Terse textspeak bridges the gap between the spoken word and the written word and has its own set of styles (I won’t call them rules) and wordforms. I apologise to Ms McCulloch and to the researchers at Binghamton University for my former arrogance and shallow remarks. from now on I’m gonna use textspeak 🙂
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