When Should You Use An Exclamation Point? Almost Never!!!!

April 1, 2013

“An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Remove the exclamation point from the keypad, and the volume of e-mail and text will drop by half, as fingertips around the world are struck dumb.

Exclamation points today are so ubiquitous, we hardly notice them.  They’re everywhere, like pickets on the fence of prose.

Kanye West once used 188 exclamation points in a single blog post.  Wow!!!  As Martha Brockenbrough, MSN Encarta columnist put it, “At least we think it was 188. We tried counting and the ordeal made our eyeballs twitch.”

The exclamation point has become an emoticon.  It says, “just in case you don’t understand what I’m saying, here’s a clue that I’m excited, that this communication is urgent or that I’m just trying to get your attention.”  ; )

There’s even a name for the overuse of exclamation points – bangorrhea, which the Urban Dictionary describes as a “grammedical” condition.  If you demonstrate symptoms of bangorrhea, bypass the emergency room, but do consult Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style” immediately and follow its advice:

“Do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using a mark of exclamation. … The exclamation is to be reserved for use after true exclamations of commands.”

So stop exclaiming!!!!!!!!!!!!  Do you really want to be a bangorrheic?

Overusing exclamation points is the equivalent of capitalizing everything to make a point and, in the process, creating a blizzard of white noise that obscures the point you’re trying to make.  It’s like wearing a belt with suspenders.  It’s conspicuous overdoing that serves no purpose other than to draw attention.

What’s worse than an exclamation point?  A series of exclamation points, strung together, like a triplet or quadruplet of identical unwanted siblings; two is never enough.

As Christopher Muther put it in The Boston Globe, “Exclamation points are no longer tough, they’ve been emasculated into sweet little blue birds delivering happy thoughts.”

A phallic image that’s regularly inserted where it doesn’t belong, the exclamation point is better off emasculated.  As a eunuch, it becomes the period it should have been in the first place.

I have nothing again exclamation points.  I even incorporated one into my company logo.  But why not make the prose exciting, rather than using an exclamation point to emphasize the banal?

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