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It’s official: Using punctuation in text messages is passive-aggressive

The next time you go sending a message with punctuation marks, you might want to leave them out, unless you want to appear like a know-it-all busybody, that is.

According to new research out of Binghamton University, using full stops in messages can make people seem less sincere.

Because text messaging leaves so much room for interpretation, the slightest punctuation mark, misspelled word or emoticon can be misunderstood.

The word “Thanks” without the full stop, for example, could be understood differently from “Thanks.” with a full stop, with different tone and meaning assigned to each. At least, that’s what was found during the study.

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“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,” one of the researchers, Celia Klin, said about the study.

“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.”

A small group of undergraduates (around 120 people) who took part in the study were asked to read out short messages in both text and handwritten form.

It turns out the text messages that ended with a full stop were considered less sincere than those that didn’t, while the same rules didn’t apply to handwritten messages.

But the humble full stop isn’t just a sign of insincerity; others would go so far as to say the punctuation mark is downright angry.

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“Not long ago, my 17-year-old son noted that many of my texts to him seemed excessively assertive or even harsh, because I routinely used a period at the end,” Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, told New Republic.

But if you’ve been throwing around the full stop without giving it too much thought, there’s no need to worry, because it’s not all negative. Sometimes the punctuation mark just means you’re ready to stop the conversation. It’s over, done, finito.

You could say, “Have a great night,” which, according to all this new text communication logic, would mean you’re open to continue a bit of back and forth banter, while “Have a great night.” would mean OK, that’s it, I’m done, see you later.

If anything, the complex and often indecipherable ways we can use punctuation and language are just a sign that the way we communicate is continually evolving.

What do you think? Are full stops more aggressive than they used to be? Let us know.

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