Advertisers and marketers overuse it, email writers seem to employ it with gay abandon and I’ve even seen it creep into news stories where its use was previously strictly forbidden. And, heaven forbid, now some deluded individuals are using it multiple times in a futile and infuriating attempt to underscore their points.
This silliness must stop. (I was so tempted to use one here but I resisted, just to set an example.)
Seriously, the intended role of the exclamation mark (known as the exclamation point in the US) is to emphasise strong feelings such as anger, disgust, surprise, excitement or disappointment. It also denotes an interjection in quoted speech.
However, as the English Club points out: “Using an exclamation mark when writing is rather like shouting or raising your voice when speaking.”
According to its Wikipedia entry, the exclamation mark has a rather colourful history as well as an impressive list of alternative and slang names.
Regardless, in many cases, use of an exclamation mark is unwarranted because a skilled writer should be able to communicate strong emotions far more effectively through the choice and arrangement of effective words and phrases than by the use of an exclamation mark.
Historically, Australian newspapers – typically somewhat rough and tumble places – have eschewed this distinctive punctuation mark and typically referred to it by a rather derogatory term, (a dog’s d***); while in other, even earthier quarters, the overuse of the exclamation mark has been cleverly coined bangorrhea.
Of course, an exclamation mark would never be tolerated in erudite publications, fictional or otherwise. It’s simply too gauche.
Can you imagine, then, the didactic dyspepsia among the eagle-eyed guardians of newspaper style guides when Yahoo! came along with an exclamation mark embedded in its trademarked name?
Levity aside, from a purely practical, reader-comprehension perspective, an exclamation mark tends to see the reader focus on the mark itself instead of helping to emphasise a statement. This risks interrupting the flow of the piece, the reader’s train of thought and, ultimately, may jeopardise its comprehension.
So, let’s leave this quirky device to do its attention-seeking work in places where a real warning or interjection is needed.
If you like what you’ve read here, you can see reporting4work’s similar posts at Style Matters