Cemeteries -- use of a period?
July 29, 2014 11:32 AM   Subscribe

I was walking in an old cemetery last weekend, and I noticed that many of the tombstones dating from around the late 19th to the early 20th centuries used a period after the surname on the tombstone: "JONES." and not "JONES" by itself. Can anybody point me to any resources for learning about this particular style convention?
posted by JanetLand to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It goes way beyond cemeteries. The masthead of my local paper used to read "The New York Times." i.e., with the period.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:59 AM on July 29, 2014

The Wall Street Journal still follows that convention.
posted by Longtime Listener at 12:00 PM on July 29, 2014

Yeah, this isn't a cemetery thing, it's a nineteenth-century formal style thing.
posted by languagehat at 12:02 PM on July 29, 2014

Best answer: If you look at 18th and 19th century newspaper ads, newspaper headlines, building signs, documents, etc., you'll see the same thing — a period at the end of each line. See top two lines in the Declaration of Independence. As noted the Wall Street Journal still has one at the end of its logo. The New York Times dropped theirs decades ago — wags said that somebody had figured out how much money the omission would save in ink. My father was taught, in Holland in the 1920s, that you should always put a period at the end of your signature, which he did throughout his life. Here's some background on the newspaper headline periods style. My guess is that it's a survival of elocutionary punctuation (meant to tell you where to pause and for how long when reading aloud), long since supplanted by our "logical punctuation" which is intended to provide clues to sentence structure.
posted by beagle at 12:50 PM on July 29, 2014 [18 favorites]

Looks like you probably have your answer, but that won't stop me from recommending to you James Deetz's little jewel of a book, In Small Things Forgotten, which has a chapter about the naming and decorative practices of tombstones in New England cemeteries. It's been a while since I've read it, so I can't remember if Deetz addresses the "period" issue, but if you have an interest in this subject, this book is well worth your time.
posted by Dr. Wu at 4:14 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

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