You’ve seen the meme on Facebook: “If you are over 50, you probably still use punctuation in texts.” There are various version of this poster, most of them showing women in hoop skirts. The idea is right there: be an old geezer and stick to punctuation or a cool young thing and skip it.
I was amazed. Peer pressure to stop using punctuation. So you can be younger. Use fewer commas and your wrinkles will disappear.
As a life-experienced person (see how I did that? Avoided an ageist comment while sounding wise), I know that reasoning has a big fallacy. One assumption is not logically connected to another. You might as well say that young people only text when the moon is full. One part is not connected to another.
My classes are filled with people who know that punctuation isn’t about the writer, it’s about the reader.
Here’s an example: “I enjoy cooking my family and pets.” Doesn’t sound like someone you want to know, does it? Add two commas and you get “I enjoy cooking, my family, and pets.” Different person? No, different punctuation.
Punctuation isn’t about the writer, punctuation is about helping the reader understand what you mean. If you don’t make it clear, if you leave doubt, people will not know what you really mean. They’ll guess. They’ll make it up. And it won’t always be pretty. Or accurate.
You don’t have to waste energy dancing around other people’s assumptions. If you use punctuation, your writing will be clear without excessive explanation.
There is a corollary to life here. We waste a lot of energy in life dancing around other people’s assumptions. When people talk to me on the phone, they often assume I’m a man, because I have a gender-neutral name and an alto voice. When they see me, there is an awkward moment, which I simply ignore and move into the business at hand. I do not have to dance around with their assumption.
Many people hear my name as “Gwen,” which makes sense, as it’s a more common name than Quinn. If I hear it, I politely correct the mistake, so the other person won’t feel awkward and I’ll get my name said right. I used to dance around the issue, trying to say my name several times, or apologizing for it. Not necessary. I don’t have to make their assumptions mine. I don’t have to apologize for something that is a hearing error.
I like to dance, but not around other people’s assumptions. And I’ll keep my wrinkles and punctuation, too. I earned them.