“Do you know what irks me?” an irked reader wrote to The Washington Post. “Periods at the end of headlines.”
Bill Walsh, the newspaper’s copy editor, was thoughtful and unapologetic:
“Post style,” he responded, “is to end a headline with a period…if it consists of more than one sentence or sentence equivalent.”
For example: How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man? Bob might know.
But over in Manhattan, The New York Times’s style has no use for a period tacked onto any of their headlines. Their choice is to leave Bob and what he might know period-less.
It is style, after all. And style is chosen.
Unless it’s not. Unless we cede our style to those around us.
It can happen without us even thinking. We’re surrounded by the lifestyles and hairstyles of others. We see, hear, and read their preferred ways of thinking, living, and punctuating. Life’s a jungle, and the clearest path forward is to follow the style of the pack leaders.
That may be just the style that suits us. But it also may not be. And we can find ourselves trapped and unhappy in a common stylebook that says go left, when our gut says go right.
There’s no one way to punctuate a headline, and there’s no one way to style our life.
So, let’s be self-styled. Let’s choose the style we live by. Let’s draw from others but not be drawn by them. Let’s decide where we want a period or where empty space would be better instead.
And let’s be thoughtful and unapologetic about our style.