“No, you don’t,” he said.
“Create a text sentence, but don’t put a period on the end of it. Just stop at the last letter.”
“Now hit the space bar twice.”
I did. A period occurred, right where it was supposed to be. This was a shortcut I somehow had not learned in my five-plus years with my iPhone, even though it was literally one keystroke away from what I was already typing.
That was the beginning of a Bad Age day for me. And for Tom, too, actually. When Tom mentioned my stupidity to his 30-year-old daughter, Emily, a lawyer, she responded:
“Why would anyone use a period in an IM or text? Using periods in informal communications is rude.”
Yes, she said. Most millennials understand this intuitively and don’t do it.
Tom and I — both over 60 — were flabbergasted. (This felt even weirder than when I learned that millennials believe picking up their cellphone and actually using it, as a phone, to call a friend, is rude: Texting, they feel, is much more polite because it makes no demands on the person’s time right now.)
Could this period thing be true? I made a second inquiry, of my good friend Valerie Holt, who is 26 and a drama teacher. Valerie doesn’t know Emily but instantly confirmed Emily’s assertion. In an email — which, she explained, is a formal communication, more like a letter, and thus abides by different conventions — Valerie deconstructed the phenomenon thus:
“I think, since other end-punctuation marks (exclamation points, etc.) come with a connotation of emotion, the period is similarly interpreted — in this case, as a negative emotion or expression of boredom. It is not necessary, and it takes a little extra time to include a punctuation mark, so logically it must be included for some reason, and people have decided that reason, with the period, is to give a kind of dismissive finality to a statement. So it has been replaced by something neutral — the simple lack of punctuation.”
As I was taking this in, Valerie added:
“What millennials really want to know is why boomers sometimes end innocuous statements with three dots. That makes everything sound ... ominous.”
So, apparently, we boomers have been offending and creeping out the kids for years.
Another millennial of my acquaintance told me something else: The casual use of an @ to mean “at,” as in, “Are you going to be @ the office?” is interpreted by millennials as a deep offense: By code, you are calling them a sphincter!
I was gobsmacked.
Then she told me she was kidding. You know, just having some fun with the doddering old boomer.
Email Gene Weingarten at email@example.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.
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