Punctuation police go after exclamation point
Meredith Golden says that finding your soulmate on Tinder is easy, as long as you swear off one vice. It isn’t cigarettes or cheese fries. It’s slimmer, sneakier. That cardinal sin: the exclamation point. “Punctuation should not be excessive, especially in an opening message,” said Golden, who ghostwrites for those struggling on the dating apps. She has seen too many hopes dashed by an overly enthusiastic greeting.
Conveniently, her rules also apply to the workplace. The sly devil is just as loathsome in the office, where it has been said to ring unprofessional. So much so that Tami Reiss, a product strategist, created a Gmail plug-in called Just Not Sorry, that alerts users when they’ve exceeded the appropriate number of marks (two) in a work email.
“This isn’t Vegas on a girls trip,” said Reiss. “The triple exclamation point is great when your best friend just got engaged, but at work, it can come off as juvenile.”
The exclamation point is more than five centuries old, but it can easily be mistaken for the runt of the punctuation family. It wants your forgiveness and attention. It wants undying love, while you’re at it. The mark is to grammar what a Red Sox fan is to baseball, insisting it’s the underdog yet coming out on top, spilling its beer on your lap in exaltation.
To Jonny Sun, a writer on “BoJack Horseman” and a viral tweeter, the exclamation point is the wild child. “It’s a rebellion against the weighty rules of grammar that were passed down to us,” he said. “The exclamation point is a way of saying we’re bucking these rules because they feel old fashioned and dusty.” The period, in contrast, “feels like a sigh.”
Regardless of the intent behind its usage, many exclamation point skeptics remain. Beth Dunn, a product editor at HubSpot, made a flow chart indicating it’s only appropriate for an emergency: “Hey! I’m on fire.”
Lydia Horne of Wired magazine, stopped using the mark in February. “A cleanse is good for the writing metabolism,” she said. She added that the point can serve as a crutch; tossing it helped her to find more precise language to express her emotions.
TO USE OR NOT TO USE