Thing I hate #19: Exclamation Points.

Reason #1: An exclamation point is the cheap whore of punctuation.

“And all those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head.”

– Terry Pratchett, Maskerade

They’re a fast, too-easy way of eliciting emotion and drawing attention, similar to hiking up your skirt, putting on some stilettos and standing on a street corner for some affirmation. They’re the thing you write in your first draft, then edit out. Because they’re a flimsy stand-in for writing with words.

This STD of excessive exclamation has infected the world we live in. It’s living in your email inbox, is rampant on Facebook, and has probably also spread to your text messages. Part of the problem is the fact although so much of our communication is via electronic device, we still have yet to develop fonts that convey joy, surprise, sarcasm or dismay. So lazy, non-English majors use punctuation instead of word choice to over-report their feelings.

Reason #2: Exclamation points remove the gravitas from any sentence.

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke. ”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

For example:

“My dog just ate an entire bag of dog food!!!”
Emotions conveyed: Surprise. Pride. Joy at the thought of the upcoming YouTube video. Innocent amazement that a dog does not stop eating when it is full. “LOL.”

What also sucks about this is that you can’t respond without over-the-top exclamation points yourself. You’ve got to lob the ball back with something like “WHAT??!! :P” or “OMG, is he okay??” And then you feel stupid.

“My dog just ate an entire bag of dog food.”
Emotions conveyed: Shock. Pissed-off-edness. Resigned commitment to disposing of the upcoming monster turd.

All of these are funnier than that ones from the first example, because they’re deadpan. And your response to this message from your friend can carry equal weight/humor. Like “If he bloats and dies let’s leave the body at Todd’s house. Also I hope he doesn’t die.”


Reason #3: It’s too hard to tell when it’s being used ironically.

“There is surely a point after which exclamation marks no longer express friendliness. In this post-literal time, exclamation marks become signs of sarcasm as witty correspondents rebel against their overuse. Hence: ‘I loved your last email! OMG did I LOVE it!!!!!!’ The point is they didn’t. They were being IRONIC.”

– Stuart Jeffries, “The Joy of Exclamation Marks!” The Guardian, Apr. 29, 2009

Are you legitimately excited about Britney Spears’ new CD? Or Will and Kate’s wedding? Or the fact that the barista spelled your Germanic name correctly on your coffee cup this morning? I know I’m not, but I also don’t want to be a total dick when I respond with something bitchy. Okay, I do, but you know what I mean.

The West End/Flickr     Probably not ironic.


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