I’m bubbly and cheery damn it.

Hmmm, sort of unclear without an exclamation mark.

Hmmm, sort of unclear without an exclamation mark.

I’m a voracious reader. Anything with words on a page … I’ll read it.

Book club thinkers.

Thumb suckers.

Thrillers.

Non-fiction accounts of soup eating.

That pamphlet the Jehovah’s Witnesses drop off and you think, “Hey, this doesn’t sound so … no birthdays? Get out of my house. Get out of my house right now.”

But if I encounter an exclamation point outside of a quotation mark, I will literally throw the book across the room.

I’m not five.

I don’t need a highway sign that says, “This sentence is supposed to be dramatic! There is something exciting happening now!”

A good writer doesn’t need to hit the reader over the head with the idea that something dramatic just happened or is happening or is being said. F. Scott Fitzgerald said their use was as obnoxious as laughing at your own jokes. But I find them less pompous and more TV show cheesy — like the dramatic cliff hanger scenes in soap operas or Olivia Pope’s surprised face. They’re just laughably obvious.

There’s a popular local writer of crimey-noirish-Parisian-I-don’t-even-know-what genre. The books litter every book store I visit and I decided to give one a try. With no less than five exclamation points on the first two pages, I heaved the claptrap paper waste across the room and used a few exclamation points where they are supposed to be used: in quotes.

“This writer should get married in the Game of Thrones! Gah!”

I have such an aversion to exclamation points in adult literature that it surprises me to absolutely no end how many times I find myself using them in emails or on Facebook.

Thank you so much!

Of course I do!

Sure, I’ll go to the IRS audit with you and then the dentist! Because that sounds like a god damn laugh riot! Ha ha ha! LOL, mother fucker!

I’m a grown ass man with a few books under my belt — books I painstakingly exorcised of any exclamation points after an editor decided the first draft didn’t have enough, or any, of them.

And yet, I write emails and Internet comments like a 13-year-old Belieber who has been sniffing glue and chocolate sprinkles.

I don’t know what comes over me.

Maybe it’s the way emails can be misread, the way tone can be misinterpreted. Maybe I’m just a lazy ass who wants to rely on a highway sign occasionally instead of using context to build a friendly tone. Maybe I just go out of my way to be liked or don’t want people to feel I don’t like them.

An exclamation point is so lazy and so clear.

Come to my party.

(“It’s an invitation, yes, but it’s so flat. It doesn’t sound like a party. Hmm … maybe he hates me?”)

Come to my party!

(“I’m going to that raging shindig and it’s going to be fucking awesome!“)

And then … I read this story from The Onion, America’s newspaper of the grammar zeitgeist, and realized it’s a thing. It’s not just me. It’s a cultural phenomenon worthy of satire, this aching need to exclaim things in email and provide a bubbly sensibility for even the most innocuous occasions.

From The Onion:

Stonehearted Ice Witch Forgoes Exclamation Point

BETHESDA, MD—In a diabolical omission of the utmost cruelty, stone-hearted ice witch Leslie Schiller sent her friend a callous thank-you email devoid of even a single exclamation point, sources confirmed Monday. “Hey, I had a great time last night,” wrote the  cold-blooded crone, invoking the chill of a thousand winters with her sparely punctuated missive—a message as empty of human warmth as the withered hag’s own frozen soul.

It’s been painful, frankly, to transition away from the use of exclamation points, relying instead on words and cold, heartless periods to convey my messages.

While the avid reader who can’t stand exclamation points is relieved, the constant worrier wonders whether the proper tone is still conveyed, whether even the most innocuous email is now a glimpse into my withered, frozen soul.

OK, thanks.

See you soon.

Comments

  1. Funny enough, I can’t think of too many instances where I’ve used exclamation points in my writing, but I use them fairly often in emails and comments!

  2. Right? It’s a plague.

  3. Courtney says:

    I use so many! What is someone on Facebook doesn’t think I’m nice?!?!

    My boss hates them. And I’m like but if you say okay. in an email I’m like are you mad that I’m calling in sick? I’m never sick, what are you so mad? Now he puts a smiley face with an exclamation point after it in all of his emails and I’m assuming he puts an exclamation point in his Courtney voodoo doll at the same time. In related news I’m also a fan of the perfume ! from the 80s. That brought all the boys to the yard. ;-)

  4. I love that you sort of converted him. Classic.

  5. Straight up. With you all the way. Worrier about tone over here.

    The internet means exclamation points. How do you share 140 characters or less and indicate joy, happiness, encouragement, positivity and not droll sarcasm?

    “!”

    It’s less about a fake positivity than it is about making sure the correct intention is communicated. One thing I’ve been doing on Instagram is to match a compliment with a thanks and whatever punctuation the sender used. Still feels cold and horrible, because, wow thanks for taking the time to say anything, and “Thank you!” seems the lesser of the evils that lurk in online communication.

    Hashtag exclamation point.

  6. That’s exactly it — conveying the correct intention. Seriously so grateful when someone writes something or comments. But “thank you” somehow seems so cold … maybe I’ll adopt your #exclamation point.

    Gah. Even THAT can be read with unintended sarcasm.

  7. !

  8. This! Was! An! Amazing! Post!

    Seriously though, you make a valid point and now I will just use ALL CAPS TO GET MY POINT ACROSS. Bonus points if you add an exclamation point to the title…

    Also, where are we on ellipses?

  9. My high school AP english teacher sat us down at the beginning of the year and told us she was giving us each ONE exclamation mark, and only one, that we could use at any point during the year, and not to waste it. I like to look at all my papers after that and bask in the fact that all my unused exclamation marks are adding up, year after year, and someday, they’ll be unleashed..

  10. Dude, this was great. My wife gets on me about not using exclamation points in my texts. It’s even worse now that she’s pregnant.