The Passive Aggressive Period and Other Tales of Punctuation
Updated: May 30
The internet has changed the way we do… well, everything. Think, speak, write, love, hate, sing, dance, read. Everything. It has also changed punctuation. I realised this while typing out an email reply to someone who said they’d get back to me soon, as they were on leave today.
Thanks a ton, I wrote.
But it read wrong.
Thanks a ton.
As if there was an unexpressed ‘asshole’ at the end of the sentence. There wasn’t, although, yes, it would’ve been very in character. But I was genuinely just saying thanks. And somehow, that period at the end of that sentence was filling it with a sarcasm I did not intend. How the hell did that happen? And it isn’t just that phrase. Take the word ‘okay’.
Hi, I’ll be coming in late today. Hope that’s fine.
How. Rude. An okay without the period is fine. Breezy, casual. But with that little jab of punctuation next to it, you may as well be saying ‘Okay. Why don’t you shove your head up your arse while you’re at it?’
Ellipses are another culprit, full of misdirected emotion.
Hi, can I borrow that book of yours you’ve been gushing about?
Can’t you just hear the drag of the ‘aaaayyyyy’ at the end of the word? Can’t you sense the sheer unwillingness of this person to part with that book? Can you imagine the eye-roll? The dramatic sigh as they ponder this gargantuan imposition, this impossible situation they find themselves in? I can, for some reason.
My feelings towards the exclamation mark have been documented on this blog before. As far as I’m concerned, that overenthusiastic little stick can shove its dot where the sun don’t shine. And after reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, I find myself rethinking the question mark too. As a standard-bearer for doubt. A little curlicue of uncertainty, filling stout, sturdy declarations with little murmurs of hesitation. Like this? You know, in case you were wondering?
But, back to the period. I have discovered how to erase its misplaced aggression. The answer lay all along, in punctuation itself. Now, when I thank people or say ‘Okay’ or resort to otherwise monosyllabic replies that a period would turn into hearty expressions of surliness, I simply replace the period with a colon and a closed bracket.
Of course, this makes it seem like I’m needlessly happy about the state of affairs which is never the case. But what’s the alternative? Hope that people get over their paranoia and don’t read too much into punctuation?
Where’s the fun in that.