A solitary ‘?’ sounds accusatory, but a string of ‘????’ signals amazement, curiosity and shock. It screams: “TELL ME MORE RIGHT NOW.”
Similarly, “HAHAHAHA” sounds like real laughter, while ‘haha’ sounds like strained politeness, a fake smile that leaves your eyes wide open and your teeth awkwardly exposed.
Last but never least, there’s the full stop. Or period.
Whatever you call it, this poor dot is the closest we have to declaring cold war via Whatsapp. Its presence indicates hostility and barely-restrained rage. When a message is dotted, you know the other person is being passive-aggressive. He/She is angry and wants you to know it, but not brave enough to risk a direct confrontation.
If the passive-aggressive period were a person, it would be that villain lurking over you with a raised knife, but quick to replace the blade with a smile when you turn around at just the last moment.
The full-stop is able to produce this curious effect because text messages normally require no punctuation. In a normal Whatsapp conversation between 2 people, shit just flies back-and-forth sans-grammar.
Everything changes when you take those two extra taps to add a superfluous period. Suddenly, ‘okay’ doesn’t mean okay anymore, it means ‘Not okay, you better go think about what you’ve done.’
Likewise, ‘Sure.’ means ‘You pain in the arse’ and ‘No problem.’ is typically code for ‘Fine, I can fix the damn thing that you broke.’
Search your feelings, you know this to be true. A single word reply garnished with a full-stop is the universal sign that someone is about to snap, while full sentences punctuated with periods reads like a Head Prefect laying down the law.
When you are in a relationship, Lesson #1 is to never take the ‘I am okay.’ at face value; rivulets of sweat should be dripping down your face if you should perchance to glimpse the dot.
“Ignore me at your own risk,” it hisses, before turning away and forcing you to give chase.
Context is probably a core reason. As mentioned earlier, text messages are an inherently casual mode of communication. Although words appear onscreen, the quick-fire ping-pong of a Whatsapp exchange is closer to vis-a-vis conversation than it is to the formalised writing in say, this article.
That’s why full-stops are so unnatural and foreboding when they appear mid-text. It’s like putting on a blazer for drinks or your boss whispering ‘can I have a word in private’ over lunch. Their sudden appearance changes the tone of a conversation from chill to serious/frosty because it forces a formal element upon a normally formless space where anything goes.
And the subtext of such formality is almost always, ‘I am no longer having fun’ or ‘Mind yourself now’—reasons implied but not given to cause maximum disquiet and anxiety.
Part of this phenomenon can be traced back to texting’s origins. Just like the old-fashioned phone call for which has long served as a substitute, messages prioritise emotion over information, and immediacy over accuracy. Your interest (or presence) is usually judged not by the quality grammar of your reply, but by its speed.
This preference for raw, unvarnished sentiment makes an enemy of well-placed periods. It’s an upside-down space where punctuation implies premeditation, and with it self-censorship, insincerity, distance, and irony.
All the crucial elements for a passive-aggressive behaviour.
According to a study done by Binghampton Univeristy that was quoted by the Washington Post, there is a general consensus that text message full-stops are insincere. I would not go so far as to call their perpetrators ‘heartless’ as the Post has done or label these messages ‘grounds for divorce’, but grammatical correctness has definitely fallen from the good graces of Whatsapp etiquette.
And I don’t think it’s likely that they will make a return.
So how do you deal with a ‘Sure.’ or a ‘Aight, no problem.’?
We have no cast-iron answer for that. If you do actually behave in this shitty manner that warrants censure, please go and apologise.
If you have a clear conscience, the best course is to pretend that the full-stop never happened. After all, passive-aggressiveness only works if it gets a rise out of its target. Once that happens, they can deny you closure till kingdom come by simply denying that they are annoyed and insisting that everything’s fine while being obviously not fine.
Don’t let yourself fall into that trap. Infuriate them by texting as normal until they snap and become actually aggressive.
Then, you can enjoy the satisfaction of demolishing them with your righteous fury.
Or just texting back an ‘Alright.’ after they’re done with the rant.
Or better yet, “K.”