I'm not above mocking my own writing quirks. A big problem is exclamation points, which I use to excess.
I have strong feelings about things. I am emotional. The exclamation points show this.
Most times, one exclamation point does the job:
I love the scarf you made for me!
This coffee is hot!
We know what the Cookie Monster, our Muppet friend with the sweet tooth, says. "Cookie!"
At times, one would suffice, but three would be better:
It's Friday at last!!!
I need chocolate!!!
What do you mean we're out of wine?!!!
Sometimes I don't even need words in an email. Someone will send me a note saying, for example, "I think we can make it to the party this year."
I'll just answer, "!!!" It's terse but says plenty.
In my defense, I will say that I use those marks only in informal settings, such as emails. It's not as if they'll hurt the reader's ears. If I actually spoke the words with the three exclamation points, it might be painful to hear because my voice is more shrill than booming.
I use them in cards and in letters. To start a letter with "Hi" seems far more melancholy than "Hi!" I use them often on Facebook, too.
But I can't think of a single time I used an exclamation point in a college English or history paper.
Silly: In Hardy's Jude the Obscure, Jude Fawley starts life full of hope but eventually is beaten down by circumstances!
Silly: Julius Caesar's decision to cross the Rubicon threw the Romans into a Civil War!
Not many news stories use exclamation points, either. Apparently reporters hold back their emotions, as they should.
Some famous writers have come down against exclamation points. Crime novelist Elmore Leonard, in a list of writing tips, wrote, "Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose."
I wonder whether the need to count 100,000 words of prose would dissuade anyone from using exclamation points at all.
Jazz Age writer F. Scott Fitzgerald liked them even less. He wrote, "Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation
point is like laughing at your own joke."
I feel terrible now. I laugh at my own jokes fairly often.
The history of the exclamation point is unclear. Some people believe that it originated with the Latin expression of joy, "io." The "i" was written atop the "o," making it look like the mark we know so well today.
The punctuation didn't appear on a typewriter keyboard until 1970. Before that, typists had to use a period, then hit backspace, then add an apostrophe. That wouldn't even work on modern computer keyboards.
A few exclamation points occur in geography.
Quebec has a town called "Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!" The town's website, which Google was kind enough to translate from French for me, says that a "haha" is an ancient French term for an obstacle. In this case, the obstacle was Lake Temiscouata. This, however, doesn't explain why the two exclamation points appear. But the town does proudly confirm that it is the only locality in the world with two (!) exclamation points in its name.
In 1986, the town of Hamilton, Ohio, decided to add an exclamation point to its name. The man who came up with the idea says he got the idea from the musical Oklahoma!
The news at the time attracted attention from around the world to Hamilton! But interest in the municipal punctuation soon died down. Most residents never used it, though it was on town stationery. Mapmakers never gave in on the exclamation point. Road maps continued to show the less gleeful "Hamilton." And city leaders admit that the idea was a bit of a gimmick.
A few years back, a German clothing and perfume company tried to trademark the exclamation point in its name, Joop! The unamused European Court of First Instance decided that consumers wouldn't in their minds naturally link the mark to the company. And thank goodness for that. If I had to pay trademark royalties to Joop! each time I used an exclamation point, I would be broke.
Naturally, one website shows us photos of silly uses of the exclamation point. It's excessiveexclamation.blogspot.com.
For example, one menu reads:
Prime Rib Saturday!!!!
The exclamation point has its proper place in math. In that world, 4! is short for a factorial function, meaning you multiply a series of descending numbers. "4!" means "4 x 3 x 2 x 1."
To summarize my feelings on the exclamation point: Know its power. Do not abuse it. Most of all, don't use it in formal writing.
Sources: The Cincinnati Enquirer, BBC, Fascinating Names, Boston.com, smithsonian.com, mathisfun.com, www.metnews.org
Reach Bernadette at
ActiveStyle on 11/20/2017
Print Headline: Don't be silly! Use these !!!! sparingly