I'm wondering if there's a name for a literary device in which an author intentionally leaves out grammar to make a sentence feel rushed, anxious, or continuous. I notice this a lot in memes, tweets, and Tumblr posts in particular. I feel like there's a definite effect on the way the language is interpreted, but I can't find any defined literary devices that properly encapsulate this idea. Some terms like "stream of consciousness" seem close but too vague.

For example:

"Wow Bukowski so profound do you also bathe fully clothed you idiot."

"One time I saw a guy eating a sandwich and skipping rocks and I don't know he just threw his sandwich in the water and put a rock in his mouth and I could just see him dying inside"

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    Good question. I think often it is sloppy laziness, but equally I think it is often deliberate. I write poetry and I often omit punctuation to allow sentences to run into each other giving elements of ambiguity and different nuances of meaning.
    – Lee Leon
    Dec 6, 2017 at 8:34
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    The second example seems to work -- the lack of punctuation gives it a rushed feel. But, honestly, the first one isn't something you'd say quickly and the lack of punctuation there just looks like bad writing. Dec 6, 2017 at 13:42
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    internet vernacular
    – Mazura
    Dec 6, 2017 at 23:11
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    In my opinion, neither "run on" nor "stream of consciousness" seem to describe this newer brand of punctuation-less sentences, which seem to me to have appeared after digital communication took over. It's doesn't serve the same purpose as stream-of-consciousness; it's more like a particular voice, one from someone who either doesn't know proper punctuation, or--more likely--just can't be bothered.
    – bob
    Dec 7, 2017 at 1:01
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    Well, tweets have a maximum character count, so anything goes to save a character or two there. Twitter is no place for a writer, imo.
    – Octopus
    Dec 7, 2017 at 6:30

3 Answers 3


The best existing candidates have both been aired. As I said in my comments on Oerlekens, one problem is that ‘the Greeks did not have a word for it’. Indeed, they did not have punctuation at all. Failing the Greeks, the Americans are very good at coining words and phrases. So ‘run-on’ is in origin an American English expression.

But today’s Greeks do have a word for punctuation which might do: stixi (στίξη). It is derived from the ancient word stichos (στιχος), meaning a rank of soldiers. But the word came also to denote musical notation. From that it must have been adopted as the best word for punctuation.

From there, we might be able to construct the literary term Matthew Sbarr is seeking.

To turn it into its negative, you would add the *privative alpha, as in astixia. It might be astixis; or it might be astichism. Either would be a legitimate coinage. Because neither has been used before, so far as I can discover, you have a free choice. I prefer the former.

The trouble with this, however, is that before it can be used, you or someone has to publish an article on the subject and hope some readers run up the flag and salute!

Short of that you are left with ‘run-on’ and ‘stream of consciousness’, neither of which is ideal.

As a last resort, I wonder if ‘the Germans have a word for it’: they often do! In fact, looking up the word unpunctuatedness, I find the word unpunktiertheit.

This, in turn, has led me to discover that critical commentators on Joyce do use the term unpunctuatedness to express the quality of some of his writing. For example, Derek Atridge uses it in Joyce Effects. This refers to the quality of the practice rather than to the practice itself. But there it is.

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    A run-on sentence is a specific thing. The second example in the question isn't a run-on, since all the independent clauses are properly linked (with conjunctions). Dec 6, 2017 at 13:52
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    This was really insightful! The notion of bending and breaking the rules of grammar to create a tone or imply a personality is a really interesting concept to me, I might have to coin a few terms and then become a famous academic. Dec 6, 2017 at 21:00
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    ELU, not ELD-I-Y. Dec 6, 2017 at 21:59
  • Thank you for this, Edwin. It puts me in mind of a question I need to ask.
    – Tuffy
    Dec 7, 2017 at 0:23
  • @EdwinAshworth Neat, as ever. But, of course, the paradox is that for every established usage there must have been some D-I-Y beforehand. Except, perhaps, where the new usage is established by some sort of authority.
    – Tuffy
    Oct 17, 2018 at 10:14

The first thing that came to mind was James Joyce, and more specifically Ulysses, where he uses a narrative technique called stream of consciousness:

In literary criticism, stream of consciousness is a narrative mode or method that attempts to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind.

As the Wikipedia-article mentions, he didn't invent it and wasn't the first to use it.

Note that not all punctuation is excluded, as can be seen in this sample that is also quoted on Wikipedia:

a quarter after what an unearthly hour I suppose theyre just getting up in China now combing out their pigtails for the day well soon have the nuns ringing the angelus theyve nobody coming in to spoil their sleep except an odd priest or two for his night office the alarmlock next door at cockshout clattering the brains out of itself let me see if I can doze off 1 2 3 4 5 what kind of flowers are those they invented like the stars the wallpaper in Lombard street was much nicer the apron he gave me was like that something only I only wore it twice better lower this lamp and try again so that I can get up early

Proper names are still capitalised, and the space is not omitted.

  • Yes, ‘run-on’ is the nearest I can think of. Unfortunately, it is so often used as a pejorative term, picking someone up for failing to use a full stop or question or exclamation mark. So it is not really a suitable candidate for complete absence of punctuation.
    – Tuffy
    Dec 6, 2017 at 9:31
  • I am sorry to have miscued with my last comment, which is about the second answer! On your answer, ‘stream of consciousness’ is the best idea available. But this does not have to be unpunctuated, so long as it skips disconnectedly from one thought to the next. I suspect the lack of a literary term for lack of punctuation is that (for once!) the Greeks did not have a word for it. In fact, they did not have punctuation at all. Nor did any other ancient civilisation in the west and middle east. Even words were not separated. But modern Greeks do: ‘stixi’ (στίξη). So ‘astixic’?
    – Tuffy
    Dec 6, 2017 at 10:14

The examples you quote appear to be run-on sentences. Out of many definitions, here's one:

Run-on sentences are sentences that lack punctuation; they can be long, but they can also be short.

From quickanddirtytips

Read more with interesting examples: http://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/grammar/runonsentences

A run-on sentence occurs when two or more independent clauses (also known as complete sentences) are connected improperly.

Example: I love to write papers I would write one every day if I had the time.

There are two complete sentences in the above example:

Sentence 1: I love to write papers.

Sentence 2: I would write one every day if I had the time.

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    Interestingly, the run-on sentence seems to be presented as an error and never as a stylistic choice. Maybe there are a new batch of literary devices waiting to be named. The ones which are often discussed/defined focus on words over type, but so much of tone comes from how people present their words, I notice many millennials use the run on sentence as a display of anxiety or apathy, some people use strictly lowercase to seem informal, baby boomers on Facebook will capitalize random words, the use of emojis to indicate irony, and so on. Dec 6, 2017 at 9:49
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    That really isn't a good definition of run-on sentence. A run-on sentence is one with two or more independent clauses that haven't been properly joined together. The second one is not a run-on sentence: the only punctuation that's missing is something to separate off the interjection "I don't know". All the other clauses are correctly joined (by conjunctions). The first example is a run-on sentence. Dec 6, 2017 at 13:47
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    In particular, run-on sentences don't necessarily lack punctuation. The stereotypical run-on sentence is something like "Ponies are cute, I like ponies" where a comma is used to separate two independent clauses that should be separated by at least a semi-colon or a conjunction (this particular form of run-on is known as a comma splice). Conversely, the sentence "I like ponies" contains no punctuation but isn't a run-on. Dec 6, 2017 at 13:50
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    Run-on sentences are sentences that lack punctuation they can be long but they can also be short
    – Restioson
    Dec 6, 2017 at 14:07
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    I said "out of many definitions", and some people just do not see that. The other definitions and "further reading" can be found if you follow the link.
    – NVZ
    Dec 7, 2017 at 5:30

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