Mad about exclamation marks!
‘ Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.’ – Terry Pratchett
SOMETIMES, I receive e- mails and text messages with nothing but exclamation marks ( lots of them) at the end of almost every sentence. I might find the odd question mark randomly thrown into the mix, but no full stops. It’s as if the senders only took one grammar lesson at school, the one covering exclamation marks, and didn’t go any further.
“These look cute!” one of these lovers of exclamation marks must have said, during that lone grammar lesson. “People will surely pay attention when I use these as my default punctuation. I can also use a lot of them when I want to emphasise something funny or unusual! So people will know to pay even more attention! Life is too short to waste on unnecessary punctuation!!!!!”
People working in the publishing industry often call an exclamation mark a screamer – a term that suggests this type of punctuation is used to give emphasis to words that would normally be screamed. Words like HELP! STOP! THIEF! and WILL YOU STOP WITH THE EXCLAMATION MARKS!
Publishing people are also fond of saying, “All emphasis is no emphasis.”
In other words, if you try to give emphasis to everything in a message, then everything is given equal importance and nothing has emphasis any more. It’s the same thing when it comes to wearing jewellery.
For example, if you’re wearing a simple black dress, it’s great to match it with a statement piece such as a show- stopping necklace OR a pair of large earrings that stand out. People will notice the single piece because it doesn’t have to compete with anything else for attention. But the moment you get carried away and overdo it with, say, a glittering necklace that’s so bright it can be seen by the astronauts in the International Space Station; along with a pair of earrings bigger than the chandeliers in the Whitehouse ballroom; and a ring that would make Mariah Carey’s engagement ring look the size of a tiny birdseed, it will all end badly. The net effect of all that BLING! will cause people to scream out: “HELP! I’m BLIND!”
Not that looking at too many exclamation marks will make you go blind, but they’ll certainly make you wish you were.
The author F. Scott Fitzgerald felt strongly about this too, because he is credited with saying, “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
I usually laugh at my own jokes ( pathetic, I know) but only when I’m sure someone else is laughing first. But when it comes to the written word, once you’ve added those exclamation marks, there’s no taking them back. And no amount of punctuation is going to make a lame comment hilarious.
Here is an example of something you may or may not find funny, depending on your knowledge of English proverbs: My next- door neighbour fell out of her bathroom window while cleaning it. She was standing on some books, stacked up in the bottom of her laundry basket, when she lost her balance and ended up on the pavement two stories below, breaking both her legs. I think she learnt an important lesson from this: Don’t put all your legs in one basket!!!!!
The punctuation at the end of this short tale will probably have the late Terry Pratchett turning in his grave.
You see, the famous author once said: “Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.”
Don’t worry if you are now classified as being insane. You’re most certainly not alone.
Whether a sentence needs an exclamation mark or not is a matter of judgment. Perhaps it’s better to let the recipients of your messages be the judge, instead of adding a host of exclamation marks onto the end and exposing yourself as the owner of a diseased mind.
If you can’t go cold turkey by keeping your finger off that exclamation mark while writing, you might want to wean yourself off gradually by cutting back. If you must emphasise something, make sure you’re emphasising the right sentence, and limit yourself to one punctuation mark at the end of each sentence.
Try to avoid something like the following: “Last night, George Clooney stabbed me in the bum. With a steak knife!”
Not only will recipients notice the use of the exclamation mark, but they will also wonder why it wasn’t placed at the end of the first sentence instead of the second. As it stands, the reader gets the impression that being stabbed in the bum by George is commonplace – as if George is a serial stabber of bums. However, being stabbed with a steak knife is something unusual or shocking.
I think all these exclamation marks are having some sort of effect on me!!!!!
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