On the (mis)use of the Exclamation Mark

 

Consider, if you will, the following sentence;

‘Oh no. The house is on fire.’

or perhaps;

‘Wow. I’ve won the Lotto.’

Are they perhaps lacking a little something? Let’s try again…

‘Oh no! The house is on fire!’

‘Wow! I’ve won the Lotto!’

Yes, it’s our friend the exclamation mark. Really adds punch and definition, don’t you think? Much loved and much used. But sadly much abused also.

It is an editor’s job to snuff out inappropriate exclaiming, so in the printed word this is not really an issue. But in the communication world of social media – is there any other kind these days – ie text, Twitter, Facebook, the poor exclamation mark gets thrown around senselessly and willy-nilly, losing its power and hard earned, lofty position along the way. Yes, it can be hard to emote in the written form, especially in only 140/160 characters, but that’s still no excuse for the following punctuation sins. I have divided them into three categories;

Overuse

You know the type of text – we’ve all received them…

‘Hiya! Went to the cinema earlier! The film was fantastic. Really funny! Will we see you later on?!’

Now, unless this person is permanently hyper-excited/is on drugs/leads a life of continuous ecstasy, then this is just not on. Not to mention irritating to the reader on whom this exclamation fest is being foisted upon. Over on Twitter, people in your timeline who appear permanently giddy and delighted, are on their way to a big, fat unfollow. A certain Irish food blogger/tv chef I used to follow had exclamations in every sentence, of every single tweet. Are recipes constantly that exciting? He does comes across as positively effervescent on TV, so maybe it is appropriate for him. But not for my timeline. A quick flick through his cookbook at least confirmed editorial control, as mentioned earlier. Good.

Repeat use

Why use one exclamation mark when two or more are there for the taking. So, what are you trying to convey?

1 – I’m excited!

2 – I’m very excited!!

3 – I’m super excited!!!

4 – I’m unbelievably excited!!!!

5 – I can’t even explain how excited I am!!!!!

6 or more !!!!!!!!!! – I’m delirious/the keyboard is stuck/ I’m trying to use up my 140 characters.

Inappropriate use

Consider the following:

‘I can’t believe he’s dead.’

or

‘I can’t believe he’s dead!’

For me, the former sentence is the more appropriate, with a sense of gravitas. Does the latter almost indicate a sense of excitement? I’ve seen this type of exclamation being used with more frequency.

Comments on Twitter, calling some sad news item ‘a tragedy!’

Or regarding a death,

‘It’s so terrible that he’s gone!’

I’m not even on Facebook. I will drag myself kicking and screaming there when my now small children cross that inevitable Rubicon. But there is a very disturbing phenomenon that apparently abounds there. It regards posts young people put up when a friend dies tragically or by suicide…

U R a legend!

See you on the other side!!

Gone too soon, man. Miss you forever!!

It reads like a hero status is being conveyed, as well as a sense of excitement and enthusiasm about what has happened. It’s a whole world more disturbing than the mere use or misuse of an exclamation point. And is a subject for another day. But to illustrate, I think

‘Miss you forever.’

reads as altogether more appropriate.

And so that’s me. I was just so excited to make these points. She exclaimed.

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One Response to On the (mis)use of the Exclamation Mark

  1. anthonybehan says:

    Nice post…kudos. Language engineering is such a powerful, subtle thing. For me, it’s the absence of adjectives that can inject an invisible power.into a sentence.

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