Monday, November 20, 2017
Opinion

Is the question mark about to disappear

RECOMMENDED READING


so what's the deal with question marks online is the collective Internet too lazy to use the Shift key does anybody even care

I pose these questions, such as they are, because lately in my Twitter feed and GChat conversations I've noticed sentences that look like the one above. They're interrogative, but they don't end with interrogative punctuation — or, in some cases, any punctuation at all.

To be sure, I'm not the only one to notice this trend. A 2013 Forbes column about online communication asked, "Who needs a question mark to infer that we are asking a question. Really."

As early as 2009, a thread titled "Are you bothered when people don't put question marks at the end of their questions" generated a heated discussion on the online forum SodaHead. "i think some people are just so lazy.... I mean how hard it is to add that little symbol at the end???" argued username Cass, lazily neglecting to capitalize the first-person singular pronoun and transposing two words.

No doubt some people do leave out question marks because they lack the energy, or the patience more likely, for a few extra keystrokes. But the context in which question marks often disappear suggests another explanation: When writers omit them, they're doing so to indicate that the question is rhetorical.

Consider some recent examples from Twitter. Stand-up comedian Rob Delaney mused recently: Enrages me when I see guys using cute dogs to pick up chicks. It's like, why did I have kids. And the morning after actress Mindy Kaling apparently had more than a few drinks, she had this to say: I'm too hungover to sleep anymore. Does McDonald's deliver mcmuffins

None of those questions is soliciting a sincere answer. Because tone can be difficult to discern on the Internet, it's useful to be able to signal that you're not actually wondering why you had children instead of buying a puppy or what aliens think of human behavior. Leaving off the question mark allows these writers to wink at their audience without ruining the joke.

Indeed, there are clues that people might abandon question marks for reasons other than carelessness or ignorance. A study in the British Journal of Psychology noted a positive relationship between children's literacy and their use of "textisms" (such as "r" for "are") in text messages. A developmental psychologist at the University of Indiana found that college students, regardless of whether they frequently used textisms or not, were equally likely to spell words correctly in an email to a professor. In other words, people consider context when deciding whether to use non-standard orthography. Being able to use it where appropriate is a sign that you understand how language works.

It's also worth noting that question marks haven't always been part of standard written English. According to the Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language, they're descended from the punctus interrogativus, a marking in medieval liturgical manuscripts that indicated the proper inflection for prayers. This symbol didn't become associated exclusively with questions until around the 13th century. And the idea that there should be some alternative form of punctuation for rhetorical questions is almost as old as the question mark itself. In the 15th century, the printer Henry Denham suggested that rhetorical question marks should curve to the left instead of the right.

If the profusion of question mark-free questions online really does mean the mark is on its way to extinction, then Gertrude Stein called it eight decades ago when she wrote: "A question is a question, anybody can know that a question is a question and so why add to it the question mark when it is already there when the question is already there in the writing. I never could bring myself to use a question mark, I always found it positively revolting, and now very few do use it''.

But Stein's argument applies only to sentences that begin with question words, such as "who" or "why." In a sentence like "You ate dinner?" the question mark is the only indication that the speaker isn't issuing a statement. And unlike the period, which is also vanishing from texts and instant messages, question marks can't be replaced by line breaks. In situations where the writer actually does expect a response, question marks are still the best way of asking for one. In fact, when people pose sincere questions online, they're likely to punctuate with multiple question marks, know what I mean???

The alarmist notion that all interrogatives will soon be left without their identifying mark — hoping against hope to catch a wave of rising inflection amid a flat sea of declarative sentences — is, pardon me, questionable. — Slate.com

Comments
Ruth: Would high-speed rail have reduced traffic deaths on I-4?

Ruth: Would high-speed rail have reduced traffic deaths on I-4?

Ah, just in time for the Thanksgiving travel season, Florida has once again achieved national prominence. We’re No. 1 — with a body bag! Can’t you feel the pride swelling?A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finds that...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Editorial cartoons for Nov. 21

Editorial cartoons for Nov. 21

These cartoons are from various Times wire services.
Updated: 2 hours ago
PolitiFact Florida: Did Rick Scott run ads bragging about Florida’s minimum wage?

PolitiFact Florida: Did Rick Scott run ads bragging about Florida’s minimum wage?

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wasted no time attacking current Gov. Rick Scott as he jumped into the 2018 governor’s race.In a Nov. 1 speech announcing his run, Levine, a Democrat, criticized the governor for being so proud of the state’s minimum w...
Published: 11/20/17
Dowd: The Hillary Effect

Dowd: The Hillary Effect

WASHINGTONWould the war against preying on women be blazing so fiercely had Hillary Clinton been elected?When I interviewed women in Hollywood about the ugly Harvey Weinstein revelations in the New York Times and the New Yorker, they told me that fee...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Jay-Z: The criminal justice system stalks black people like Meek Mill

Jay-Z: The criminal justice system stalks black people like Meek Mill

This month Meek Mill was sentenced to two to four years in prison for violating his probation. #FreeMeek hashtags have sprung up, and hundreds of his fans rallied near City Hall in Philadelphia to protest the ruling.On the surface, this may look like...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Published: 11/17/17

Column: Shame has fallen out of fashion, but it can be a force for good

BY JOSEPH BURGOPublic shaming represents an ironic kind of justice, for it is shame that keeps many victims silent for years. Shame has increasingly come to be viewed as a repressive force whose shackles must be thrown off.Every day it seems someone ...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Joe Henderson: Require coding in schools? How about pushing technical skills

Joe Henderson: Require coding in schools? How about pushing technical skills

As if public schools don’t have enough headaches, Apple CEO Tim Cook recently interjected himself into the debate about how best to train young minds.In an interview with French media outlet Konbini, Cook said, "I think coding should be required in e...
Published: 11/17/17
Howard Altman: Missing records confound veterans on base exchange website

Howard Altman: Missing records confound veterans on base exchange website

In the more than three decades that I have been toiling at various paragraph factories, few stories have elicited as much response as the one I wrote about the new program to allow all honorably discharged veterans to shop at military base exchanges ...
Published: 11/17/17