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Globalization spreads to punctuation, as dots replace dashes in phone numbers

WASHINGTON—When it comes to phone numbers, dashes are SO 20th century.

The difference between 202-383-6008 and 202.383.6008, image consultants say, is like ... the difference between tap water and Pellegrino. Or flipping channels to avoid commercials vs. using TiVo.

Periods are "a little more updated, a little more chic than dashes," said Tracy Wilson, a graphic designer and handwriting consultant for Wilson & Associates Consulting Group in Indianapolis.

Genevieve Zetlan, the founder of Nimble Communications LLC, a marketing and design firm in Herndon, Va., agreed. Periods "tend to project the image of being more international, especially being more European," Zetlan said.

That makes sense. European countries have used periods in phone numbers forever.

Their usage took off in the United States when dot-coms did, said David Massey, 53, of Kennesaw, Ga., a telephone industry historian.

"Once the Internet became popular and IP (Internet protocol) addresses were becoming part of everyday technical talk, someone decided to make phone numbers look like IP addresses and replaced the hyphens with periods," Massey said.

Another phone buff, Roger Conklin of Palmetto Bay, Fla., thinks globalization played a role.

"The Europeans have been using dots from the beginning of time. Americans adopted dashes. Now that the world is getting smaller, each tends to want to emulate the other, resulting in a mixture," Conklin said.

Periods make it easier to squeeze more information on business cards, Zetlan noted.

They also are "typographically more pleasing to the eye," she said. "Dashes can connect to the numbers on either side visually and be difficult to read. When you're talking about a number with slants, like the number 7, periods allow for more space."

Chicagoan Mike Sandman, another phone historian, thinks the period pandemic is ridiculous.

"I figure people who use dots are clueless," he said, "or maybe from Bulgaria."

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For more on telephone industry history, go to www.telephonetribute.com

For more on typography and image, go to www.nimblecommunications.com

For more on the history of phone numbers, go to http://ourwebhome.com/TENP/TENproject.html

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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