So Many Ways to Say 'Whoa'

When I was first learning English - British English, supposedly - I was puzzled by the fact that you put a "full stop" at the end of a sentence. In German, you simply placed a Punkt there, a point. Perhaps students in Britain were prone to plunge headlong into run-on sentences, oblivious to any punctuation symbols, and the "full stop" was to remind them to come to a complete halt, like cars at a stop sign.

Then I came to the United States and had to relearn. Here sentences ended with a "period." "Point" was reserved for mathematics, and the famous constant pi was not 3 "comma" 14, as I had learned, but 3 "point" 14. Maybe grammarians came up with "period" as a way to signal budding readers that they had to pause after a sentence.

I would periodically try to convince my American friends that for reasons of brevity, "point" was preferable to "period." It's one syllable versus three. Well, maybe two and a half.

My point was well taken, but my friends were unwilling to try to change the system.

I did get them to admit that brevity is a strong suit in America. "Mass." stands for Massachusetts, "DOT" for the Department of Transportation, "POW" for prisoner of war, even if POW has the same number of syllables as what it stands for. It's even worse with "www," nine syllables versus the three of the Internet's World Wide Web.

Speaking of which, the period before "com" or "org," etc., in an e-mail address is not a period at all, but a dot. This time, brevity did win out.

The American Dialect Society dubbed "dot" the most useful new word for 1996. New? A somewhat dotty idea since "dot" has been around a long time. Other than that, they have a point. Who wants to say "period com"? Or "full stop com" in England, where "dot com" is common coin. Dot is short. Dot is sensible. So dot is it, and dat's dat. Period.

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