The postmodern personalities of 6 punctuation marks

Illustration depicting the front page of a fictional tabloid/news website, "PunctuationFeed"
Aishwarya Jayadeep/Senior Staff

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Punctuation marks are pretty objective in their purpose within the world of written (and spoken) language. But in an age dominated by the internet, memes and the universal need for speed, these marks have evolved into characters of their own. Though they have a bad rap insofar as the word “punctuation” causes some to despise writing altogether, punctuation marks have power: They often determine the mood of a sentence, a phrase, even a single word. So, without further ado, here’s a list of a handful of typically unremarkable punctuation marks and their not-so-unremarkable postmodern personalities, roughly in order of ink usage.

Period

A naturally very serious one: You can count on the period to show up in a professional email, but a text message? Unless it’s in a text from your baby boomer parent (or maybe just both of mine), periods tend to stay away from realms of instant communication. Despite this, they’re actually pretty sassy on occasion. In short sentences, the period has a definitive stage presence, as it carries the weight of another word. Enough said. Period(t).

Comma

You wouldn’t know it just by looking at them, but commas actually give the infamous exclamation mark a run for its money. They are the most subtly chaotic of the bunch. One only needs to conduct a simple Google search on the Oxford comma to see evidence of this reality, as the presence of countless debates on the serial comma’s usage signifies a resounding lack of consensus. In both private chats and public spaces such as Twitter, commas run rampant as the Generation Z alternative to ellipses.

Apostrophe

Ah, the misunderstood one: often ignored and always misused when not pushed aside completely for convenience. The apostrophe is supposed to make life easier, but alas, they’re the tortured artist of the bunch. Its versus it’s? Sad, but understandable. Autocorrect exists for a reason. But Roaring 20’s instead of Roaring ’20s? Are you kidding me? In what world? (Certainly not a roaring one.) Alas, such is the lifelong struggle of the apostrophe.

Semicolon

Also a very serious one, but quite the crowd-pleaser, despite its ironic role as the literal divider between two similar, independent clauses that couldn’t commit to being their own sentences. The semicolon is also perhaps the most culturally classic mark, as it’s often spotted in tattoo form off the page.

Ellipsis

The Associated Press Stylebook has condemned the ellipsis to loner status. It’s not related to any words but merely serves as a placeholder for words that didn’t make the cut, the spaces on either side of the three periods rubbing salt in a wound of isolation. And, apparently, the ellipsis is giving way to the comma, much like the way Vine walked so TikTok could run. See, punctuation can be interesting — it isn’t always black and white. Whoever tells you otherwise probably uses ellipses.

Em dash

Ah, yes, the simultaneously famous and infamous em dash, the influencer of punctuation marks: very trendy but often wrong, one way or another. As far as writing goes, the em dash definitely adds interest and tasteful spice when it’s used correctly. Overall, unlike most punctuation marks, the em dash wants to be seen — it’s the most opinionated of them all.

Strikeout

OK, I know the headline indicates there would be six marks and, of course, strikeout — a text style format more commonly known as strikethrough — is not a punctuation mark, per se. However, it is arguably the most truthful “mark,” working behind the scenes to ensure everyone else gets their act together before the showtime of publication. Strikeout does it all: Not only can it be used to point out your probably really embarrassing mistakes, but it can also be used to convey the ugly truth humor in a borderline cringey truly singular way. It’s definitely the most outwardly chaotic and the boldest of the bold, which is why it’s the name of this blog at the end of this list. There’s nothing quite like it.

Jordan Harris is the night editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jordxnhxrris.