Friday, March 2, 2012

Exclamation Point - Is there a place for you anymore?

Recently, I was told that I use too many exclamation points in my emails. Pssh.

It is an email. Who cares?

But then the author of the email, my grandma of the punctuation police, told me that it appears as if I am shouting at her when I use it.


Well, first of all there is some truth in that because my grandma is 87 years old and I do shout when talking to her. But I have to admit that shouting was not my intended tone. Instead, I wanted to convey how excited I was to be having lunch with her that day.

This is what my sentence looked like: "Grandma, today is going to be great! I'll meet you at Monicals at about 11. Save a spot for me?!!! Violet has been super cranky, and I can't seem to get moving on time today. Ugh!"

This is how my grandma corrected my sentence: " Grandma, today is going to be great. I will meet you at Monicals at 11. Will you save a seat for me? Violet has been cranky all morning, and I am not keeping good time today."

Then after that correction lashing, my grandma said, "Kelly. I know you are fun and sweet. I should be able to tell that with your words, not your punctuation."

And suddenly I was whiplashed viciously into grad school. All the memos that I had written, all the papers, all the emails to professors, all were heavily laden with exclamation points. It was almost like I had looked back on my life through slow motion, all this time, and no one had told me. Why no intervention? I feel that blame should be placed on everyone else for this....

So then what do you do when you realize that you have a problem and need to fix it? Google. Yep. I started searching for reasons why the exclamation point is so vehemently hated, and I found the following statements:

"The exclamation point is like the horn in your car—use it only when you have to. A chorus of exclamation points says two things about your writing: First, you're not confident that what you're saying is important, so you need bells and whistles to get attention. Second, you don't know a really startling idea when you see one." (Patricia O'Connor - Woe is I)

"I can sum up the problem that most people have with the exclamation point in one short sentence: They use them. That's right. That's the problem. Most often when an exclamation point is used, it is unnecessary. In an academic paper, exclamation points are inappropriate. In fact, in most writing, even in personal letters, one almost never needs an exclamation point. The exclamation point means that you are extremely excited and maybe even shouting. If people talked like they write, with all of the exclamation points, they'd be out of breath and have a sore throat"
(Dr. Rick Walston)


Apparently F. Scott Fitzgerald likened using exclamation marks to laughing at your own jokes (guilty as charged).

Ouch. But don't worry. I did find a positive:

"The use of exclamation marks is appropriate in creative writing. Sometimes they accompany interjections (e.g., ouch, oh, wow), but most times, exclamation marks are used to convey a strong emotion or surprise. However, Even though exclamation marks are accepted in creative writing, the danger is that they can promote lazy “telling” and not vivid “showing” writing. By overusing them, authors are relying on a piece of punctuation as a shortcut for exposition" (

Even the positive comes with a warning though.

It may hurt me exponentially, but these are indeed very good points. Is the exclamation point the sign of a nervous or self-conscious writer? Maybe.

I would most definitely fit into that category, and admit that I have fought the urge to have them all over this post. I think the problem I have and maybe other writers have is that we wonder if the correct emotion is conveyed without the use of the exclamation point.

Can my reader understand how important the phrase I'm writing is without the EP? Or how happy I am to be writing to them? I think that, "Hi! How are you!?" is perfectly fine. To me, it reflects the fact that I am indeed very happy to talk to the reader of my note, but in retrospect this does appear to be shouting.

I guess this is what Facebook, Twitter, and texting have done to us although my exclamation point love most definitely originated before the social networks. Alas, it is a hard habit to break, but do I have to break it?

Yes. Sigh.

Exclamation points should be used sparingly in academic writing because the words you choose to write should be strong enough to not need an exclamation point. There are instances where they are acceptable, and that decision has to be made by you. You have to remember your audience. Would I use an exclamation point in a 16 page essay regarding Peter Elbow? (well, man...yeah. Who wouldn't?) Probably not as much as I desperately want to do it.

I would be afraid that my professor wouldn't take me as seriously if I emphasized my all important point with ! UNLESS I had come up with something so ground breaking and so amazing that I decided this one time, this one perfect time, this serendipitous place where my point is going to be absolutely off the charts remarkable is perfectly suited for the EP. Perhaps a sentence like this, "I have found the lost island of Atlantis!"

Now that I know that I have a problem will I stop using the EP so much?

Yes, grumble grumble. I'm even going to go as far as to try and stop using it in my Facebook status updates and my texts. Will people still understand my excitement?

Probably. At least I hope so.

The first step is admitting you have a problem. Anyone else ready to put that life of exclamation points behind you?

My name is Kelly, and I'm addicted to Exclamation Points.


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