I may have an exclamation point complex.

Is it just me or is the exclamation point getting a lot of flack lately? Maybe it’s just me. As a writer, I have to pay attention to things like punctuation. So the difference between ending a sentence with enthusiasm (!) or stateliness (.) is important. But I have encountered a few people in my life who are staunchly against the exclamation point. I’ve heard some say it implies that you’re yelling at your audience. I’ve heard some say it makes your sentences sound like they’re trying too hard (i.e. if your sentence is really that impactful, you don’t need an exclamation point to over-deliver on your already super-impactful sentence.)

So the thing that got me really thinking about exclamation point usage most recently was an article I read online at Feministe. (And for the record, no, I am not a feminist. I’m just female and have opinions. Don’t get it twisted.) The article read:

In a study titled, “Gender and the Use of Exclamation Points in Computer Mediated Communication,” (for reals!) Carol Waseleski (EXCLAMATION POINT) deciphered that women use exclamation points 45% more often than men in e-communication. But it’s not because we’re more excited than men. Women use exclamation points online as indicators of a “friendly interaction.” We’ve been socialized to try to make people feel comfortable and to keep the peace. Hence sentences like, “Bill, I can’t wait to see the 4th quarter EMBO Report on the new 12-gauge ball bearings!”

She’s not excited to see that report. No one is excited to see that report. She’s letting Bill know that she’s not angry that it’s late yet. When she’s angry, she’ll use a period.

Absolute truth. We need a new punctuation mark — a friendly period — to indicate a friendly and nice conclusion to a sentence. Come on, punctuation people, do it [FRIENDLY PERIOD].

This is SO true. In my experience, women do use exclamation points more than men when it comes to emails in the workplace. And honestly, when I use them in e-mails, I do so to demonstrate my eager appreciation for something. Or, I use it to simply avoid sounding like a nazi. And if I ended everything in a period, would that make me sound dull, boring and seriously lacking in the personality department? These are things I truly do think about.

I also think there’s a lot of truth to the idea that women are constantly trying to make people feel comfortable and keep the peace. So it makes sense why I would insert an exclamation point here or there to communicate the fact that I’m not mad. I’m stating something politely, but pointedly. And the same goes for face-to-face conversations. Why is it that I always feel the need to fill the silence somehow? It makes sense that it’s my unknowing desire to make the conversation feel comfortable. But damn, it’s exhausting!

And lastly, we definitely need the friendly period to be the new punctuation mark. Can someone call up the keeper of the punctuation bible and submit a formal request for this? If said keeper is a she, she will surely understand.

I have a feeling the correct usage of this long-standing punctuation mark will never get resolved. Which is why I will probably keep fretting over it, despite the fact the average person really couldn’t give a monkey’s bum about how I end my sentences. Now excuse me, while I read through this blog post 28 times to make sure I’ve properly used my exclamation points in all the right places.

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2 Comments

Filed under Career

2 responses to “I may have an exclamation point complex.

  1. Papa Razzi

    Exclamation point. Exclamation. From the word exclaim. Definition: to cry out or speak suddenly or excitedly, as from surprise, delight, horror, etc.

    So, IMHO, just as an exclamation can express different emotions or attitudes, so is the exclamation point a multi-purpose punctuation mark. Those who see the exclamation point as 1-dimensional may simply be !-dimensional perceivers.

    And we do have a friendly period, though it takes three symbols to implement. I’ll use it to end this comment 🙂

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