Writers love their commas, their periods, their dashes (sometimes too much). But there is one punctuation mark that has long been the object of scorn.
Mark Twain disapproved of the use of “whopping exclamation points.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald thought that using an exclamation point is “like laughing at your own joke.”
Elmore Leonard thought writers should be limited to “no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.”
There’s a word for the overuse of exclamation points — “bangorrhea” — defined in the The Urban Dictionary as “overusing exclamation points in a vain attempt to make your writing sound more exciting.”
The book “Elements of Style” by Strunk & White — a little manual that is held in sacred esteem by serious writers — advises, “Do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using a mark of exclamation.”
Rather, the exclamation point is properly reserved for commands — “Stop!” — or expressions of surprise — “Wow!”
It can also come in handy if you want to sound like you’re shouting — “Put that down this instant!” — if you’re writing a comic book — “Bang! Pow! Here I am to save the day!” — or if you want people to come see your musical. (Let’s face it, not many people would buy a ticket to see “Oklahoma” or “Mamma Mia.”)
Nobody knows who invented the exclamation point. The leading theory, according to Smithsonian magazine, is that it comes from the Latin exclamation of joy, or “IO,” which was written with the “I” on top of the “O.”
The exclamation point didn’t get its own key on the typewriter until 1970. (Before then, you had to type a period, then backspace, then type an apostrophe.) (Can you believe that?!)
People in the printing business have lots of evocative nicknames for the exclamation point: “screamer,” “gasper,” “startler.”
I used to be very careful and judicious in my use of exclamation points.
Then I got hooked on email.
It started innocently enough.
Email seemed much too informal for the formal salutation “Dear So-and-So.” So I began using “Hi” or “Hey.”
But that little comma at the end just looks so droopy and sad. I sounded like Eeyore. So I added an exclamation point.
See, much happier!
Although this doesn’t work the other way. It’s just not right to exclaim “Dear Bob!”
Until one day, email wasn’t enough. I started texting.
People who text use a lot more exclamation points!
It got to the point where I was using exclamation points like they were commas. And so, when I actually wanted to issue a command or express surprise, I had to use two exclamation points!!
Once you build up a tolerance for two exclamation points, you have to keep using more to generate the same level of excitement.
They say that Kanye West once used 188 exclamation points in a single blog post !!! although now he says he has given up that lifestyle.
These days I can use up to eight, nine exclamation points in a single text!!!!
Somebody help me please !! before I start TYPING IN ALL CAPS!!!!!
Lisa Davis is Features Editor of The Anniston Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.