Thursday, August 4, 2011

What's up with all the !!!!! ?

What’s up with all the exclamation marks? Back when most communication between friends was received audibly, via face-to-face conversations or telephone, I wasn’t aware of the punctuation a communicator intended. Now, thanks to social media, I am privy to their punctuation. And I can tell you that there’s a whole lot of !!!!! going on.

Here’s a news flash for all written communicators. The standard ending punctuation for a sentence is the period. Other ending punctuation should be reserved for times when you just have to deviate from the period or the intent of the statement would be lost. Take the question mark, for example. You reserve it for questions. You don’t just decide, I think I’ll end this statement with a question mark, if it’s not a question. In the same way, the exclamation mark should be reserved for times when you can’t possibly not use it in order to communicate your intent. Think of it like the story of "The Boy Who Cried 'Wolf!'". If everything ends in an exclamation mark, then when an exclamation mark is really needed, it loses its impact.

I read a lot of emails, tweets, texting and Facebook postings that end every statement with an exclamation mark. This makes me ca-razy. But what makes me even crazier is multiple exclamation marks. As if one isn’t enough, they have to use five or six. I suppose that’s what happens when you end every sentence with !. Then, if you really want to show excitement you have to end the next one !!. And if it’s over the top excitement, !!!!!. Where will it end? One is enough. And it should be used sparingly.

My hometown of Hamilton, Ohio decided that they wanted to create some enthusiasm for their little corner of the world, so they changed their name to Hamilton! Although they tried to make this official, whoever it is who decides such things didn’t buy it, so to the rest of the world, it remains just plain Hamilton. But to insiders, it’s Hamilton! This is so silly on so many levels. First of all, the names of cities have never been followed by punctuation. And if they were, would Hamilton necessarily be followed by an exclamation mark? Why not a question mark or a period? Or how about an ellipsis, as if the story of "Hamilton" were still unfolding: Hamilton... I really like that. But, here's the thing. Even if we did have the option of following the names of cities with punctuation, should the good people of Hamilton be the ones to decide that for their own city? They’re not exactly objective about it. Wouldn’t everyone like to see their city name followed by an exclamation mark? I live in Charlotte! My daughter lives in Brooklyn! My son lives in Pittsburgh! And therein lies the real problem with exclamation marks.

The overuse of exclamation marks is a sign of ego-centricity. When you have to end everything you say with !!! it tells other people, “Listen to me because what I have to say is always important.” Yeah, I know, we’re all ego-centric. But do we have to flaunt it with our punctuation? I am hereby taking an official stand for more humility in punctuation!*

* Yes, in that sentence an exclamation mark is totally necessary! Okay, but in that last case it wasn’t. Redo. Yes, in that sentence an exclamation mark is totally necessary. Period. Got it?


  1. nancy: you are a minimalist. may you ever live a life of silent restraint; contra-dancing excepting.

  2. Your second last sentence. If it says Period, does it need a period after it?

  3. Heh. Certainly exclamations can be overused. Some of us are just enthusiastic.


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