Relationships

Texting etiquette is a minefield and full stops are the enemy - here’s why

How the little full stop can create so much mayhem

By Karyn Henger
I'll text you later.
This is what he said in his Whatsapp message and I spent the rest of the day agonising over what I'd done wrong - because he, all fifty-something and seemingly oblivious to the nuances of text language, had simply communicated his intention and punctuated it with a full stop.
But I, who never end a message with a full stop because I know that it indicates annoyance, suggests passive aggression, was left hanging.
Was he angry with me? Had I interrupted him when he was in the middle of something important? Was he telling me he wanted space?
You can only imagine the amount of over-analysis that went into this.
Two months in, I now know that's just how he rolls. Full stops all the way, baby. He knows his punctuation marks and he's sticking with them.
But this man would be a rarity, because as my teenage kids put it, 'everyone knows a full stop means you're being rude'.
Image: Getty
In a world where people are more likely to DM or text one another than pick up the phone, the subtleties of text language have taken on an ever-increasing importance.
As internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch, who has written a book about the rules of internet language, told the BBC, "If you're a young person and you're sending a message to someone, the default way to break up your thoughts is to send each thought as a new message, because the minimum thing necessary to send is the message itself.
"Anything additional you include can take on an additional interpretation."
Take a quick scroll through your group chats on Facebook Messenger or texts and DMs with friends and you'll see what she means.
Heart emojis, smiley face emojis, and not a full stop in sight.
We use emojis to soften a message, lighten the tone, or show sincerity. Similarly, we drop off the full stop because in the context of a text it's overly formal, which can change the whole tone of the message.
Image: Getty
According to a study by Binghamton University in 2015 the 126 undergraduates who took part claimed that text messages that ended in a full stop came across as less sincere than the same message without the punctuation mark.
Celia Klin, who led the study, explains: "Texting is lacking many of the social cues used in actual face-to-face conversations.
"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."
In the case of a text message, a full stop is fine if your intention is to be serious, however it can be problematic if you're trying to keep things light.
"The problem comes when you have a positive message with the seriousness of the full stop," Gretchen said.
"It's the juxtaposition of those things which creates that sense of passive aggression."
Sounds good. - So you're not happy with the arrangement at all?
Amazing. - Not amazing then?
Ok. - Whoah, don't hold back now.
Thankfully, you can delete sent text messages if you try to make a point with a full stop then think better of it.
You can also delete Whatsapp messages within seven minutes of sending them but the recipient will see that you've deleted your message.
The safest bet is to think twice before sending in the first place - because life is too short to end a relationship over a full stop