A Time and a Place for Everything, Even Incorrect Grammar

I used to think Siri on my iPhone was sort of lame. I would occasionally ask her about the weather or to set a timer for me, but she didn’t really change my life. I was young; I slept through the night; I didn’t have a kid.

But now, I have a kid, which means I have only 2 hands and a thousand things to be holding, wiping, sorting, carrying, managing, collecting, and hugging. Siri has become invaluable to me. I text people while I’m buckling my son in his car seat! I ask her to look up how many tablespoons are in a cup while I’m rinsing a can of beans and holding my toddler. I talk to Siri all day long, and with some slight misunderstandings, she’s generally very helpful.

As if using Siri isn’t already the ultimate lazy/multitasking tool, I’ve found myself getting even lazier. I don’t really always double check the texts I ask her to send for their grammar and spelling. When I’m not using Siri, but I am using voice-to-text, I check those even less often. At least Siri will read my text back to me and can edit it without my having to lift a finger. Bottom line: the punctuation is always atrocious.

I’ve started to wonder if all this Siri, Google, voice-to-text stuff is going to permanently affect what is acceptable grammar and punctuation in our written society. Personally, I’ve gotten pretty good at reading texts that come to me from people using those features–lots of autocorrect, incorrect punctuation. It makes it a little harder to understand, but it’s not a full on communication breakdown by any means.

And then I wonder, honestly, who cares? Before you gasp and clutch your pearls, hear me out. I love grammar. I work for grammar. I believe that proper grammar and punctuation are very, very important. But part of what I love about language is that it is constantly evolving. We’re constantly inventing things that need names, creating new words out of conversations. We’re an ever-evolving species and our language reflects that. So, I’m not going to sweat the small stuff in a text message. It’s a matter of conversation and convenience. I wouldn’t by lazy about it in the workplace, and certainly not in a space like this blog. It’s the same way that I don’t mind a swear word or forty among friends, but wouldn’t do it while I’m giving a press conference live on TV. You see where I’m going with this? There’s a time and place for everything. Even though my heart will always fully belong to proper punctuation, grammar, and spelling.

Punctuation Evolution

We’ve all been there: staring at an email sent by a work colleague that is rife with tension. We agonize over every short sentence, turn of phrase, and use of punctuation. Are they angry? Frustrated? Why is that word in all caps? Trying to understand someone’s hidden subtext in an email is maddening.

Text messages seem to bring that issue to the doorstep of friendships and marriages. My own husband worries if he writes, “I love you!” in a text and I reply, “Love you, too.” God forbid I omit an exclamation point. If I do, I’m clearly trying to tell him that I’m mad at him and love him a little less than normal.

Instant messenger (oh AIM, remember those days?) and texting have already made capitalization optional. If you’re friends with me, you get annoyingly grammatically correct texts–come on, guys, look at where I work–that are proofread. Seriously. But I’m old-fashioned and a stickler for making sure people understand exactly what I’m saying. I take my punctuation and capitalization seriously.

The New York Times article “Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style” suggests that the period is becoming irrelevant and is more frequently a type of emoticon used “to show irony, syntactic snark, insincerity, even aggression.” >:-o Just ask my husband!

The article goes on to point out that British teens are already giving up some emoticons and abbreviations like “LOL” and “ROTFL” because they’re used by their parents’ generation and thirty-somethings like me. I’m sure American teens are right there with them. My good friend texted me not long ago that her middle school students told her that only old people use emoticons. Ouch.

Check out The Times article above to ponder this some more. And also pay attention to how author Dan Bilefsky uses (or doesn’t) the period in the article.

So, what say you? Is capitalization irrelevant? Do we need periods anymore? Do you heart emoticons? What do you think is the next punctuation mark to go?