Punctuation marks as words slash sounds slash gestures

Young people nowadays?  They end their sentences with a rising intonation?  So that every sentence sounds sort of like a question?

So, I was listening to a woman on a podcast, and she was describing her mixed feelings about a movie:

“I liked it — question mark?”

She felt the need to verbalize the punctuation mark, because her typical speech pattern couldn’t convey her doubt about whether she actually liked the movie — because every sentence she spoke seemed to convey a bit of doubt anyway.

Another punctuation mark that gets verbalized is the slash used as a conjunction, as in “I walked/ran all the way home.”  But I hadn’t realized how far this had gone until my son sent me this post from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Slash has become a word used in everyday writing as well as speech — a new conjunction or conjunctive adverb.  The following usage is straightforward: the word is just substituting for the punctuation mark:

Does anyone care if my cousin comes and visits slash stays with us Friday night?

But the following usage, as the author points out, is more interesting:

I really love that hot dog place on Liberty Street. Slash can we go there tomorrow?

Or even:

JUST SAW ALEX! Slash I just chubbed on oatmeal raisin cookies at north quad and i miss you

Here slash has wandered far from the standard use of the equivalent punctuation mark.  It is introducing an afterthought or topic shift, without much in the way of a relationship to the previous sentence.  That’s super-cool and awesome!  (The word chubbed is also super-cool and awesome, by the way.)

The writer concludes:

The emergence of a new conjunction/conjunctive adverb (let alone one stemming from a punctuation mark) is like a rare-bird sighting in the world of linguistics: an innovation in the slang of young people embedding itself as a function word in the language. This use of slash is so commonplace for students in my class that they almost forgot to mention it as a new slang word this term. That young people have integrated innovative slash into their language while barely noticing its presence is all the more reason that conjunctive slash might have staying power.

All of this reminded me of Victor Borge’s famous phonetic pronunciation routine, which YouTube kindly provides:

Life would be much more interesting if we all talked like that.

2 thoughts on “Punctuation marks as words slash sounds slash gestures

  1. As all living languages, English evolves from one point in time to the next and the use of the slash as a conjunction, both in the form of a punctuation mark and as a word is a stellar and interesting example. It’s the pace of current change, caused by the speed at which we now communicate, that amazes slash concerns me.

    Millennia ago, Mr. McCoy, my tenth grade English teacher, didn’t embrace linguistic innovation nearly as much as we often appear to do today. If I were to end a sentence with a preposition, a common current practice that’s used to avoid the prose being stilted or forced, or used a contraction in my writing, I could expect an icy stare and a less than prefect grade. Despite that, when we read Dickens or Shakespeare, he would freely point out the many differences in language usage.

    If I had a time portal handy and sent a book by a current popular author, say Dan Brown, back to either Dickens or Shakespeare for review, I suspect that with a bit of puzzling and technical background they could read it enough to understand the gist of the story. Can you imagine their confusion if I sent back a handful of text messages or tweets without including some sort of Rosetta stone to help with the translation?

    IMHO, b/c of twitter, written language will NBTS. Just FFT. #GR8_post


    P.S. ICW8 to use “chubbed” in a sentence.


  2. Pingback: That thing kids do? Where they seem to put a question mark at the end of every sentence? It has a name! | richard bowker

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