Is the Sentence Becoming Passé?

26 January 2020

In an age of emojis, memes, and reaction gifs, are complete sentences becoming passé? Do outmoded forms of writing deserve to die? Or could there be room for more than one kind of writing? On this week’s show, we’ll discuss the death of the sentence with Professor Jan Miezkowski, author of Crises of the Sentence.


The Internet is constantly generating new forms of communication, and with them, new creative opportunities. Meme templates let anyone add a personal twist to a shared joke; emojis and reaction gifs re-contextualize images to give them new meanings in conversation; and tweets encourage efficient writing that gets straight to the point.


Internet communication also has the uncanny power to rip words and images from their original context in a way that alters their meanings. This had great comedic potential, as seen in the Facebook group Science Diagrams that Look Like Shitposts. And it seems harmless when a piece of text—a quote from a famous author, an anonymized text message, or someone’s post on social media—is passed around as an inspirational or funny image.


But unlimited ability to re-contextualize words and images can be dangerous. Consider how cartoonist Matt Furie’s character Pepe the Frog became a symbol of the far right. (Furie ended up suing to have the image removed from the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer.) Or consider the way that one tweet, taken out of context, can make a person a target for social media bullying.


There are also some things that new ways of writing can’t achieve, and that traditional forms do better. For developing a complex argument, an essay is better than a tweet. (Of course, there are people who will just post a long essay as a sequence of tweets!) The ambiguity of images isn’t always an asset; if you’re trying to express a philosophical argument, or giving directions on how to plan a wedding, then using words instead of images, or alongside them, will help you pin down a definite meaning.


It’s worth bearing in mind that not all Internet trends are new. Playful acronyms like LOL or FOMO are trendy now, but they were also trendy in the 1830s (which might be where we get the word “OK”). Humorous photographs of cats, complete with silly captions, date back to at least the turn of the 20th Century. And of course, quoting out of context was invented long before the era of the Internet, even if the Internet makes it especially easy.


In spite of these qualifications, I think that genuinely new things are happening to the English language in the digital age. Does this mean that the sentence is dying—or just changing? Tune in this week for our conversation with Jan.


Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

Comments (8)'s picture

Sunday, January 26, 2020 -- 11:17 AM

Your comment about rhythm in

Your comment about rhythm in speech reminded me that these are all purely visual means of communication

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, January 27, 2020 -- 11:28 AM

If the sentence is becoming

If the sentence is becoming passe, does that mean language is doing likewise? If so, where do we go from there? Maybe We are becoming artificially intelligent...just sayin'

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Harold G. Neuman

Monday, March 21, 2022 -- 7:13 AM

...along with handwriting;

...along with handwriting; person-to-person conversation; socialization, in' the broadest possible sense'; and a few other cultural norms. I have asserted that a number of changes, including complexity and our old nemesis, postmodernism, have created a storm of rebelliousness and, as discussed in another blog, ' narrative burn-out'. Change is ordinarily benign when occuring at a moderate pace. However, the progression of change is decidedly immoderate in our 'fast-paced', impatient world. Elaborating an old cliche, not only do we fail to smell the coffee, we barely taste it.

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ThalesofMiletus's picture


Monday, August 22, 2022 -- 11:49 PM

In these times when we are

In these times when we are looking for renewable and clean energy solutions, the pre-Socratics philosophers who were fully connected to the forces of nature already had the answer. Thales of Miletus, (Arche) Water - Hydroelectric power. Anaximenes, (Arche) Air - Wind energy. Heraclitus of Ephesus, (Arche) Fire - Solar and Geothermal energy. Leucippus and Democritus (Arche) Atom, (first atomic model) - Nuclear energy.

Orlando E. Toledo. postdoc.

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sarausa's picture


Tuesday, December 19, 2023 -- 5:29 PM

In many cases, emojis, memes,

In many cases, emojis, memes, and reaction gifs can represent a more concise and humorous expression than a complete sentence. This is appropriate for social media platforms where short and quick attention Suika game spans are important.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2024 -- 2:26 AM

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Sunday, January 28, 2024 -- 8:48 PM

Excellent work! I eagerly

Excellent work! I eagerly anticipate the featured articles in this publication. dordle

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Mike34's picture


Sunday, February 18, 2024 -- 10:42 PM

Linguistic styles and

Linguistic styles and preferences do evolve over time. The sentence may be prompting reflection on whether certain sentence structures or linguistic conventions are still widely geometry dash lite accepted or if there's a shift in how language is used.

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