Make your [exclamation] point!?
If you’re a fan of the ’80s sitcom Seinfeld, you probably remember when Elaine broke up with her boyfriend because he failed to use an exclamation point when taking a phone message from her friend who just had a baby. (A baby!)
Actually, this isn’t surprising—studies have shown that women use exclamation points more than men.
Seems that people either love ’em or hate ’em. Elaine obviously loved them!
F. Scott Fitzgerald obviously didn’t. He is reported to have said, “Cut out all those exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.”
But, Scott was a man. And apparently a little grumpy. What’s wrong with laughing at your own jokes (especially when no one else is)?
Anyway, what are we up to when we use exclamation points?
When we write e-mails, texts, and letters (and blog posts), we use them to express astonishment (“You won’t believe what just happened!”) or excitement (“I’m all packed and can’t wait to go glamping this weekend!”). But I think we mainly use them to convey that we’re the kind of people that can get excited about another person’s ideas and, in general, excited about another person. It’s like a pat on the back. We use an exclamation mark to reassure someone that we’re in their camp, we like them, we’re enthusiastic about them!
Here, try this:
I’m okay with your text.
I’m okay with your text!!!!!
Big difference, right? The first one says, “It’s okay. It could have been better, but I can live with it.”
The second one says, “I’m more than okay with your text, I love it!”
Have you ever wondered where the exclamation point came from?
In Latin, the exclamation “io” was a strong word denoting triumph or celebration. It was also used to punctuate a joke. Somewhere along the line, people decided to shorten it up and put the “i” above the “o” … and there you have it. Or, rather, there you have it!
An exclamation point is all about emphasis.
Depending on how many you use, you can give a plain ol’ sentence a little bit of oomph or a whole lotta pizzazz. You can share your excitement, or you can scare the buzzards right out of someone.
For example, sending someone a message that says, “We need to leave now!” might just mean you’re anxious to get on the road, but send someone a message that says, “We need to leave now!!!!!!!” and they might think they’re driving you to the ER.
I once had an employee at my farm who put at least one exclamation mark after every sentence in her e-mails. Some sentences had anywhere from 2 to 10 exclamation marks. My take on it was that she was one busy bee trying to reassure people that she thought they were awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! She certainly didn’t lack enthusiasm in real life, so at least she was consistent!!! (I think three on that sentence.)
Properly punctuating can be positively perplexing, but it can also be fun. Sometimes when we’re having one of our late nights in the design studio trying to meet a magazine deadline (after 11 years!!!!), I’ll accidentally call an exclamation mark an explanation mark. I wonder what an explanation mark might look like?