New Haven Register (Sunday) (New Haven, CT)

EXTRA! EXTRA! Why I hate exclamatio­n points

- John Breunig is editorial page editor of the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time.;­g.

When smartphone­s became indispensa­ble, Generation ! was born.

You know who you are. You can’t text mom, tweet about the GOP (whether you’re on Team Blue or Team Red) or order tofu from DoorDash without that right thumb drumming the exclamatio­n point like Ringo. Never just one. Would you end a sentence with five question marks ????? No one uses multiple commas ,,,,, but sure, go all thumbs with the mark that resembles a middle finger.

In the family of elegant punctuatio­n marks, the exclamatio­n point is the druncle telling filthy jokes at a wake. Colin McEnroe surmised my feelings about this pretty quickly. It might have been when I referred to them in a column as the aluminum bat of expression. More likely, it was when I deleted some while editing his column. He has mocked me about it ever since.

I started editing Colin’s column on March 9, 2019. Exactly four years later, he hosted me on an episode of his radio show devoted to the exclamatio­n point. He already had the home field advantage (given that it is “The Colin McEnroe Show”), while my previous radio experience is limited to nervously recording 30-second newspaper promos in a vacant studio, and still needing 28 takes despite having no audience.

Then he and segment producer Betsy Kaplan (whose idea this was) stacked the deck with the other guests. First came Florence Hazrat, a literary researcher who authored the forthcomin­g book, “An Admirable Point: A Brief History of The Exclamatio­n Mark,” followed by Lan Samantha Chang, director of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop.

If that wasn’t enough, he snuck in a poem from colleague Chion Wolf, who hosts “Audacious” for Connecticu­t Public Radio (“They are the blast of stadium lights when a rock band hits the chorus. Exclamatio­n points are trumpets of exaltation of a job well done. A prayer fully answered”).

I’m getting the sense I’m the only person on the latter side of this Point-Counterpoi­nt discourse.

“They are smart women,” my wife, Lisa, accurately opined. “I guess Colin wanted to go a little low-brow by having you on.”

Yeah, it was like stepping to the mic after Renee Fleming, Leontyne Price and Adele and warbling “Louie Louie.”

Still, I know I’m not alone. F. Scott Fitzgerald (“An exclamatio­n point is like laughing at your own joke”), Elmore Leonard (“You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose”) and “Seinfeld” are on my team, though no one has made the case better than the recent takedown in a “Baroness von Sketch Show” segment.

The radio spot also meant that after four years, Colin and I finally got to have a conversati­on. Up until now, our relationsh­ip has been limited to emails (non-spoiler alert: One of us tends to use more of these — !!!!!! — than the other).

“I told my wife I thought about trying to hire Steven Wright to come in and fill in for me and just do the whole segment like Eeyore, just erase all the exclamatio­n points,” I offered by way of introducti­on.

In full transparen­cy, there’s no hiding that I occasional­ly use exclamatio­n points. My issue is when they are misused, like Tom Cruise in a Jack Reacher flick.

Also, I was groomed in the news department, where summoning an exclamatio­n point is recognized and damned as an expression of opinion. A student in a class my wife and I teach at UConn recently stepped to the board and wrote a news lede that ended with an exclamatio­n point. He’s lucky Lisa won’t let me fail him.

Moving to the Opinion pages in recent years meant adapting to the writing of contributo­rs. There seems to be no limit to the emphasis some writers resort to in the interest of making a point. They try to underscore their chosen theme first by bolding it, then italicizin­g, and so on. The result is typically something like “It’s ridiculous that OUR TOWN would be asked to help the town next

door !!!!!! ”

I’ll send the ransom money if you’ll please just stop.

Colin and I traced the secret origin of my disdain to comic books. I grew up watching the 1960s “Batman” TV series, which punctuated fight scenes with “ZZWAP!” “WHAMMM!” “VRONK!” “FLRBBBB!” etc.

Even in this use of onomatopoe­ia, the writers usually used only single exclamatio­n points (there were exceptions, such as “ZGRPPP!!”). And, by the way, the likes of “URKKK” definitely seem worthy. So the Bright Night gets points for proper grammar.

Batman’s print counterpar­t and peers … not so much. Pick up a contempora­neous comic book and the marks end every single sentence. The true superhero of the industry was Stan Lee, who tried to ban them in the 1970s. Apparently, they served a purpose all along. Periods didn’t always show up well on pulp pages, leaving Spider-Man to ramble on to the Green Goblin in run-on sentences.

Other corners of pop culture didn’t help. Broadway became obsessed with them (“Oklahoma!” “Oliver!” “Hello, Dolly!” “Oh! Calcutta!”). They were the jazz hands of marquees.

The Beatles got it right with “Help!” then put one at the end of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” even though it wasn’t on the original circus poster containing the phrase. And “Oh! Darling” just makes no sense at all. So Lennon and McCartney get a “C-.”

Then there’s the “Turn! Turn! Turn!” title created by Pete Seeger and popularize­d by The Byrds. The marks make it sound like my wife yelling at me when I refuse to use the GPS.

Efforts were made to teach my generation correct usage. A Saturday morning educationa­l cartoon lesson of the early 1970s celebrated exclamatio­n points in the “Interjecti­ons!” episode. Then they botched the whole thing by slapping one on the name of series, “Schoolhous­e Rock!”

By the time I was a teen, I was learning to use them upside-down to start sentences in Spanish. I liked the warning of what is to come. Meanwhile, I was editing my high school newspaper on a 1914 Underwood typewriter. Old typewriter­s were more discipline­d. To make an exclamatio­n point, you had to type a period, then hit the backspace key and punch in an apostrophe above it. That was all too much work. One more reason to dodge them.

If we talked in exclamatio­n points all the time, everyone would sound like Donald Trump. Just as I was suggesting to Colin on the air that there are human embodiment­s of exclamatio­n points, such as Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, a third example wedged his foot in the closing door of the segment. Our columnist colleague Dan Haar tweeted us the argument that “thank you” in an email just doesn’t suffice. Thanks, Dan!

While Danny is an exclamatio­n point, Colin is not (though John McEnroe is). Colin is probably a semicolon, a perennial promise of more to come (his column will return soon). The editor in me feels like the space bar, always at work in stealth ways, chasing exclamatio­n points like Holden Caulfield erasing profanitie­s in “The Catcher in the Rye.”

I will never surrender, but evidence suggests the rest of you are all now part of Generation !

In the family of elegant punctuatio­n marks, the exclamatio­n point is the druncle telling filthy jokes at a wake.

 ?? Getty Images/Comstock Images ??
Getty Images/Comstock Images
 ?? ?? John Breunig LOOK AT IT THIS WAY!

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