This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.



Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Nuts and Bolts: full stops and periods.

Punctuation does upset people. I don't know why. 

I suppose that if wrong punctuation makes a sentence say something unintended then that might be a disaster, but otherwise I can't really see why such high passions rage, especially in people who are otherwise mild as milk.

Here's a case in point (unintentional pun: sorry): is a dot on the baseline of a piece of text a full stop or a period?

Well, pleasingly, quite possibly neither.

This isn't even a question of where you are in the world, though what an English person calls a full stop is often called in the USA (or the U.S.A.?) a period.

For instance: what's this baseline dot called if you're reading out loud:

3.14

?

(or, hang on, is it a decimal point?)

A typographer might call that mark a baseline dot, to distinguish it from an interpunct, which is a dot raised into the air.

If you maintain that History Is Right, then we should all be writing our full stops or periods as high as they'll go, as Aristophanes of Byzantium did a couple of thousand years or so ago (and possibly call the thing a stigmē teleia). 

(Aristophanes did employ a baseline dot, but it was used essentially as a comma: however, the scribes at the time couldn't be bothered with commas and so this system fell out of use, and by the 9th century AD some people were writing their full stops on the baseline. By the time printing came along this habit was generally established.)

Anyway, the use of the word period dates back to Ælfric of Eynsham, and Old English. The thing he called a period was a sign that looks like a modern full stop - but also, like Aristophanes's, acted as a comma. 

By the time Modern English came along the words period and full stop were beginning to be used consistently throughout Britain and the USA: a period was a baseline dot that wasn't at the end of a sentence. When it was, it was a full stop. That system worked very well right up to about 1900, when things got muddled.

Nowadays...well, nowadays there's an interloper appeared called a full point.

Aargh!

What is right?

Who can say? Not me. 

All I know is that sometimes people just need to go out and get themselves a life.

Word To Use Today If You Dare: full stop or period or full point, whatever rocks your boat. Period comes from the Latin peridos.



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