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A Period of Adjustment


It’s something I learned in first grade. Sentences on the page end with something commonly known as a “period”. Perhaps with the published exception of James Augustine Aloysius Joyce, that tiny black point resting on a line of copy, signaled the end of a thought. That mark pacts a lot of information into a very small space. It’s part of an inanimate language all its’ own. Like semaphore flags or STOP signs. It communicates.

Having been born in a nation of writers and readers, the Greeks found it useful in Hellenistic times. Great literature, as well as the daily newspaper (remember those?), owe a debt of gratitude to the monarch of all punctuation. This simple point on a line has fathered many other familiar commandments. The Comma, the Question Mark, the Colon, the Semicolon (working its’ way to becoming a full colon), you undoubtedly know the rest. Well, the very point I’m making is that the ancestry of the “period” is really old, reliable and durable. Its’ proven itself in famines, floods, uprisings and all-out wars.

Yet, the information age is a proven disruptive innovator. Up can be down, in possibly out but the world keeps turning. This was the case on March 15, 1985, the date that may be considered the literal transubstantiation of the “period”. The appearance of the “period” remained, only the substance changed. The registration and use of the world’s first cyber address to include a “dot-com”, occurred without fanfare. The beloved “period” is still with us today but it maintains somewhat of a split personality. Technology had created a doppelganger punctuated by a question mark. Are there two personalities in one mark or are there two distinct identical marks, inwardly acting in different modes? The masses were told each mark had a unique purpose in our lives but that they were in fact one. How could that be? They even had different names, we called them by different names! One is a “period” forever and ever, amen. The other, merely the nick-name of your aunt Dorothy, “Dot”. Most agree, the “period” has a quiet dignity about it. It’s just silently there to be used almost without thinking, whereas the “dot” must be pronounced from the user’s lips over and over again. If you neglect to say it, people bring it up on their own. The “dot”, like its’ generation seems to crave attention. Monty Python says, “it’s a mystery...”

In truth, the sovereignty of the “period” has been breached. No other punctuation serves two masters. Academia wondered if this might happen again? Grammarians met to debate its’ implications on the future of language itself. Nothing was resolved. The code writers also met but paid little regard to history. As it should be. Change is reality. According to some, there is life after death. Meaning the only thing certain in this life is taxes (and more taxes). Even as technology plays fast and loose with the “period”, I would assure you better days are to come. Though the end of the world arrives for someone every minute of every day, on the whole we have an estimated 5-billion years remaining for mankind to right any punctuation wrongs which beset our lives and the lives of our children and their children and...

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