Once I believed that the exclamation mark (or exclamation point) was a very easy, straight forward type of punctuation. I remember Mrs. Ramsey, my 5th grade grammar teacher, educating us about four types of sentences, each having its own punctuation mark.
Declarative – makes a statement and ends with a period
Interrogative – asks a question and ends with a question mark
Exclamatory – shows excitement and ends with an exclamation mark
Imperative – gives instructions or suggestions and usually ends with a period
It was that easy
An exclamation mark is appropriate when expressing excitement, fright, or anger. I went through decades believing that the period was neutral, and real emotion needed more than just a meager period. An exclamation mark adds emotion, power and emphasis. The most important TV show of that time reinforced that simple truth. Batman could never have beaten the Penguin and Joker without a few exclamation marks.
But Now . . .
Neither Mrs. Ramsey nor Batman bothered to inform us that using exclamatory sentences and their corollary exclamation mark should be limited. They didn’t tell us that if every sentence was emphasized, then none of them stand out as significant. It’s like telling me that the tooth fairy is fiction: why didn’t anyone tell me she was a fairy tail?
Now I find a variety of rules (recommendations?) on the use of exclamation marks. One article says to use only one per paragraph. Another says to use one per page. I read that I should never use an explanation mark in business writing or in nonfiction, and only very sparingly in fiction.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.”
However . . .
I find that this new form of communication, texting, brings me back to my original premise. An exclamation mark is needed to show emotion. Speakers practice the use of nonverbal cues to reinforce their meaning. Writers use descriptive sentences to make you feel the emotion. But in the world of texting, punctuation delivers the sender’s emotion.
According to Ben Zimmer, a linguist and executive editor of Vocabulary.com, “Digital punctuation can carry more weight than traditional writing because it ends up conveying tone, rhythm and attitude rather than grammatical structure.”
Texts are short, quick bursts of communication
There’s little opportunity to use well developed style to intimate your feelings. In a text, the use of punctuation serves the same purpose as those emoticons my granddaughter adds to her notes.
I have fat fingers. I use one finger to type on those tiny cellphone digital keyboards, letter by letter, with a lot of back spacing to delete all the extra letters. If I can use fewer letters, add some capitalization and extra exclamation marks, the receiver can know exactly what I’m feeling much faster.
Look at the table below. Even the most ardent Grammar Police have to admit which column conveys the intensity I’m feeling.
|Statement||Quick and expressive||Quick and Intense|
|Oh my goodness.||OMG||OMG!!!!|
|I could use some help here.||Help!||HELP!!!!|
|I’m really frustrated.||ARGH!||ARGH!!!!|
|I love you, Mom.||Love you||Love you!!|
|I’m really cold.||I’m cold||Brrrrr!!|
Hey! Mrs. Ramsey and Batman had it right all along. An exclamation mark is appropriate if you are expressing excitement, fright, or anger. A few extra exclamation marks simply hammer the point home. But, remember, this is just in texting. In other writing: use your words.
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