Posts Tagged ‘punctuation’

Exclamatory Remarks

September 24, 2007

Move over hyphens. Exclamation points are the wave of the punctuation future. Slate reported recently that exclamation points, those symbols of brown-nosing enthusiasm and unsophisticated prose that author-types tend to loathe, are making a comeback on the internet.

Apparently e-mail and text messaging have finally provided the appropriate heaven for the punctuation mark that Strunk and White relegated to a sort of grammar purgatory. In their tome Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home, David Shipley and Will Schwalbe note that ” ‘Thanks!!!!’ is way friendlier than ‘Thanks.’ ” The exclamation mark here stands in for emotion, or at least that insincere tone of voice that people use when they really want you to do something for them.

I admit, I am on occasion guilty of the “please do this for me and reply quickly” Thanks! at the end of an email. But I do not endorse the wholehearted enthusiasm that the authors of the book show.

Excessive use devalues the exclamation point’s power when it is actually used appropriately. (Only one after each word/sentence, never more. Limit their use to one or two per email, if they must be used at all. Only use when the message otherwise runs the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, flippant, or critical).

I cringe at the notion that the reincarnated exclamation point might someday seep into print culture. I believe it was a Clinton who once said that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” And I think the same can be said for exclamation points. They should, for all respectable discourse, remain safe, legal, and rare.