A classic riddle asks: Using three periods (.), two commas (,), and one question mark (?), punctuate the following line to produce a logical and grammatically correct sentence:
That that is is that that is not is not is that it it is
If you know the answer, don’t text it to your friends. You might hurt their feelings.
However, just between us, here’s the solution:
That that is, is. That that is not, is not. Is that it? It is.
The beauty of a brainteaser like this one is not just that it gets us to think. More important, it gets us to think about thinking, to appreciate how communication is critical to critical thinking, and to think about how the same string of words can be fashioned into a cogent message or left as a meaningless hodgepodge of phonetic symbols.
But don’t say so out loud. You might offend someone.
That’s what Professor Celia Klin and researchers at Binghamton University found when they asked undergraduates to interpret text messages responding to an invitation. Their study revealed that students perceived responses properly punctuated with a period at the end as less sincere and, in some cases, psychologically combative.
In other words, it’s antisocial to be articulate, crass to follow convention, and reprobate to observe the rules.