Generation Z feels intimidated by full stops, experts find

Helena Horton
·3-min read
Teenagers using cellphones -  Image Source
Teenagers using cellphones - Image Source

Full stops have become the latest casualty of youthful sensitivity as experts say they can be “intimidating”.

As teenagers and those in their early twenties, Generation Z, have grown up with phones in their hands, using short messages to communicate with one another, and the punctuation mark has fallen out of fashion and become a symbol of curt passive-aggression.

Linguists have been debating the use of the full stop and why some young people interpret a correctly punctuated text as a sign of annoyance.

Some argued that the full stop had become redundant, as a text was now ended simply by sending it, and the sentence did not need to be finished with a punctuation mark.

Linguist Dr Lauren Fonteyn tweeted “If you send a text message without a full stop, it’s already obvious that you’ve concluded the message. So if you add that additional marker for completion, they will read something into it and it tends to be a falling intonation or negative tone.”

Others said the effect of a full stop changed depending on the medium of the message.

Owen McArdle, a linguist at the ­University of Cambridge, said: “I’m not sure I agree about emails. I guess it ­depends how formal they are.

But full stops are, in my experience, very much the exception and not the norm in [young people’s] instant messages, and have a new role in signifying an abrupt or angry tone of voice.”

The meaning of the full stop in online communications has been a debate raging among linguists for years.

Prof David Crystal, one of the world’s leading language experts, thinks the use of the punctuation mark is being “revised in a really fundamental way”.

In his 2015 book, Making a Point, he explains that instead of its original purpose, signifying the end of a sentence, it has become an “emotion marker”, signifying anger or annoyance.

He said: “You look at the internet or any instant messaging exchange – anything that is a fast dialogue taking place. People simply do not put full stops in, unless they want to make a point.

The full stop is now being used in those circumstances as an emotion marker.”

This is also backed up by science. A 2015 study by Binghamton University in New York, involving 126 undergraduates, found that they perceived text messages ending in a full stop as being less sincere than the same message without a full stop.

Researchers also found that exclamation points did the opposite of full stops, making people seem more sincere and engaged.

Research leader Celia Klin said at the time: “When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses and so on. 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.”