Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Exclamation Point!

I've had a long, ambivalent relationship with exclamation points. As a youngster, I used them with gusto. A note passed during class might have read "It's early release day! Let's go to the mall ! I might get new earrings at Afterthoughts!" One fateful day, I read somewhere that using a exclamation point was like laughing at your own joke. (I just looked it up and it's a quote attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald.) I became immediately ashamed of my penchant for boisterous punctuation. They seemed to me like a mark of my own immaturity- the semicolon was a fine pinot noir, the exclamation point a cheap white zinfandel. I shunned the exclamation point for years.
Gradually, I began to warm up to my former punctuation pal. I've always been a letter writer, and one of my primary correspondents is my friend Buddah. When I was in Nicaragua with the Peace Corps, he was on deployment with the Navy, so both of us had limited telephone and email access and wrote letters frequently. Buddah has no qualms about using exclamation points, and I slowly began using them again. A letter from him might have a line like "The prostitutes in Thailand are hilarious!" where as my response would contain "I got giardia. Again!"

I've also found that occasionally the exclamation point can help convey tone in an email. Sometimes, I add them so my emails don't come across as harsher than intended.
For example:

Please bring the money you owe me to the game on Thursday. Thanks.


Please bring the money you owe me to the game on Thursday. Thanks!

See what I mean?

In summary, it's okay to use exclamation points, as long as you do so sparingly.
Besides, I do laugh at my own jokes.


Rob said...

One of the editors at my work has a saying:

"At birth, you get 10 exclamation points to use for the rest of your life. They're non-transferable, and you can't buy more. Use them wisely."

Hehe! Oh, crap! I used another one ... and another! ACK!

Nitsirk said...

So did you know that today is National Punctuation Day or is this just a coincidence?

eileen said...

Are you serious? I had no idea. What a coincidence! (see what I did there?)

Mike said...

I think I would've gone much harsher with that email:

I want that damn money you owe me, so bring it to the game on Thursday.

Though an exclamation point seems appropriate in this version:

Bring the money you owe me to the game on Thursday, or else!

eileen said...

Oooh, exclamation point and bold type. That's threatening stuff.

bigglesworth said...

the prostitutes in Thailand are hilarious. (it's just true, why exaggerate or add emphasis.) :) <-- the smiley face. it's the new exclamation point

Kevin said...

So... how many times DID you get giardia? I had never even heard of it before travelling in South America, and thankfully I haven't heard of it since.