Punctuation: Due For An Upgrade?

December 16, 2013

One example of some proposed new puncutation possibilities

One example of some proposed new puncutation possibilities

I’ll take a page out of my colleague Andrew Miller’s book and say that, yes, the internet is full of rabbit holes. See his treatise on productivity (or lack thereof) in the current era here.

And while I did happen upon this post’s topic by the aforementioned internet-induced happenstance, it did provoke some not-so-frivolous thinking about communication and its evolution.

Last month, I brought up how our office likes to send around gifs that carry a culturally-specific meaning –- a meaning that’s often evolved from its initial iteration to take on a meaning of its own. Structuralism and post-structuralism both address the ways our grammar of meaning is built, with the latter developing the grammar idea to account for an inescapably dynamic nature of meaning. In other words, meaning is fluid: It’s constantly changing.

While our words, images, phrases, and hashtags evolve at an ever-increasing pace, one element of our language that seems to remain oddly stagnant is punctuation. In an era where the written (or, more specifically typed or texted) word is ever more central to how we communicate both socially and professionally, we seem to be faced with an odd inability to effectively clarify the nuances of communication that so often can be misinterpreted.

Take, for example, sarcasm. Difficult enough to interpret for some in person, it takes on an entirely greater level of ambiguity when translated to text messages or social media posts. Or, conversely, sincerity: There’s little more awkward than having to explain to a friend that your comment, while taken as sarcasm, was a genuine statement of candor.

While some of the examples given at this links here and here are posed with tongue firmly in cheek, they do pose intriguing, if not humorous, commentary on the linguistic plight we seem to have gotten ourselves into.