Why are girls ending their sentences with question marks?

CAMBRIDGE, MASS — Even when they’re saying their own names?

“What’s your name?” a professor asked a student last week. The student had asked a number of intelligent questions in that oddly sing song voice reminiscent of what used to be called Valley Girls, but that seems to know no geographic boundaries now.

“Lisa?” she said, perhaps indicating that if it wasn’t good enough she could change it.

I hear more it often here, where infinite variety and high standards otherwise abound, than I can recall hearing it anywhere else, although maybe it’s on the rise everywhere.

I don’t know. It seems to go along with the flat hoarse voice, that seems to be the trend now as well, and that seems to say, “don’t mind me — I can hardly speak.”

In my mother’s day, which also was Marilyn Monroe’s and Jacqueline Kennedy’s day (which if you think about it wasn’t their day, their month, or even their decade) this message was delivered in a childish whisper. Listen to it. You could mistake them for children — as people did my mother — over the phone. But at least it was passive-agressive. It said: “come closer if you want to hear me.” Which is why it was mistaken for sexy. In fact it said, if you deny me a voice, you will have to try harder to communicate with me.

Then, evidently, came backlash in a big way. The decade that followed the decades that victimized Jackie and Marilyn and pitted them, seemingly, against each other, took away some of the supposed benefits (they were what? getting to stay home with children all day, clean, or supervise, the cleaning of the house, in sysyphian cycle, again, and again —  again?) they had accrued, and bestowed the rights to at least ask for equal pay (the jury is, literally, still out on that — after seven years of my salary, savings and 401K being robbed by what turned out to be blatant workplace discrimination, I suddenly got a nearly $10,000 a year raise after another female worker threatened suit), participate in sports, have abortions (if you want to face a screaming crowd of lunatics on the way in, and the eternal judgement of everyone), and the right to go to Harvard  . . .

And here we are? Talking like hostages? If you don’t like me I’ll change?

I couldn’t figure it out, so I looked it up. I found scholarly studies in communications journals. They didn’t have the answers but they had part of the question — people who end their sentences with question marks are assumed to have lower status than people who don’t. The habit takes away their credibility and subtracts from their credentials, however hard earned those credentials may be.

So the answer, by now, may be in ourselves, as well as our stars, leaving anyone who does it to ask: why do you end your sentences in question marks?



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