Restoring the Exclamation Point | Here or There
Updated: Dec 6, 2019
I love the exclamation point. When you see a “!” it even looks like it’s yelling at you. Just like the period says, “We’re done here,” the comma says, “Hey, take a breath,” and the question mark looks like someone is lost asking for directions, the exclamation point—at least at one point in time—had a clear purpose; it meant that someone was either angry or excited.
It would look weird to write a line of dialogue where someone is shouting and end it with a period. You need the exclamation point to pack a punch.
But where it doesn’t need to show up is in about every email I send. For example, here’s what a typical email of mine looks like:
Happy Friday! Just looked over the whatever and it looks good to go. Could you do the work thing and the other work thing?
Three out of five sentences ended with an exclamation point. Why am I yelling? My tone is like a high school cheerleader. When I say, “Go!” you say, “Fight!” Go! Fight! Go! Fight!”
And what I’m doing isn’t uncommon. I’m writing in standard Millennial email-ese. The person receiving the email under¬stands the exclamation points are friendly placeholders, not to be taken seriously.
The person who gets screwed over in all of this is the one who writes emails without these friendly, yet meaningless, exclamation points. Look at the same exact email with the exclamation points swapped out with periods:
Happy Friday, I guess. Just looked over the whatever and it looks good enough, you dirtbag. Could you do the work thing and the other work thing, preferably while we’re both still young? I hate you. I seriously hate you.
Thanks for nothing.
As you can see, all I did was take out the exclamation points, and it went from friendly to, “What’s their problem?” Could be the nicest person in the office, but now they’re established as an email jerk.
The email and text message markets are oversaturated with exclamation points. They carry little to no value anymore. Since one exclamation point is always expected, moments like “Happy Birthday!!” or “Thank you!!!” now need two or three to demonstrate the true level of excitement.
The solution? I think we need to put exclamation points in Swiss bank accounts. Take millions of these out of circulation for a while and try to regain some of their original value. I mean look at the incredibly rare semi-colon; any time I see one of those things, it’s like spotting a two-dollar bill. Granted, I don’t really know what to do with it, not sure how it differs from a comma, but it’s always exciting to see one out in the wild.
Once the exclamation point regains its full value, we’ll start to appreciate exclamation points the way the Spanish language does by throwing in an upside-down one (¡) at the beginning of a sentence. In the office, we’ll see someone’s face turn red, see them grab the keyboard, and we’ll all gather around their desk. “Dude, can you BCC me on that email?”