The Writers' Loop

For Readers and Writers

EXCLAMATION FIXATION

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By SUSANNE MARIE POULETTE

I get annoyed by exclamation fixation, how about you?   I call it that because one of Webster’s definitions for fixation is “an obsessive or unhealthy preoccupation or attachment,”  and for exclamation, “vehement expression.”

So I’ll restate: I get annoyed by obsessive or unhealthy preoccupations or attachments to vehement expression (marks), how about you?

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the exclamation point as  “…..a punctuation mark used to show a forceful way of speaking or a strong feeling.”

Western Michigan University writes that an exclamation point  “…is used to end a sentence expressing strong emotion or commands…and may be used to close images - Copyquestions that are meant to convey extreme emotion.”

If these definitions are true, then we have to calm down, folks.  We’re writing messages in histrionic overkill.  Talk about hyperbole.  (Ouch, I really wanted to use you-know-whats for those three sentences. I’m using great restraint here.)

Anyway, when I researched the topic, I was shocked to see so many forums, comments, blogs, and articles discussing the flagrant overuse, misuse, and abuse of the poor, skinny little exclamation point.  Apparently, there are tons of people in Reader Land who also notice the trend. Even the Boston Globe and the New York Times have addressed the issue.  (Some credit, too, for my restraint on that one, please.)

One issue is the use of multiple exclamation points.  One isn’t enough for some folks, every sentence - Copyevidently.  They feel their emotion so strongly that they need two, three, four, or a long line of them.  Another issue is the use of the omnipresent exclamation point, used to show any kind of emotion or no emotion at all.  (See you later!  Pretty good!  Thanks!  Will do!  Ham and cheese on rye!)   I’m sure you get the idea.  Some folks tell me they feel their text or email messages are too dull without a ton of exclamation points.  Maybe that’s what emoticons are for?  Otherwise, could every message be that exciting?  Does every little piece of information or greeting carry extreme emotion?

 Ben Yagoda, at The New York Times Opinionator, writes:

 “…what if a particular point needs to be stressed beyond where it would normally be? Well, you need to kick it up an additional notch, with another exclamation point, or three. The unsurprising result has been Weimar-level exclamation inflation, where (it sometimes seems) you have to raise your voice to a scream merely to be heard, and a sentence without blingy punctuation comes across like a whisper.”

 

Christopher Muther at The Boston Globe, in The Overuse of Exclamation Points! adds a new word to our lexicon, “bangorrhea.”

“This exclamation epidemic has become so dire that there’s now a name for it – the very unpleasant slang bangorrhea. Urban Dictionary goes a step further by calling bangorrhea a “grammedical” condition. Even grammar snobs are fighting figurative infection.”

“Even though I know better than to use stunt punctuation instead of thoughtful language, I often find my hand hesitating over the exclamation point,” confesses Martha Brockenbrough, author of “Things That Make Us [Sic]” and the founder of the blog the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. “Should I use one? Does it seem amateurish? Without it, does my e-mail sound bossy and abrupt?”    snoopy

 

Marcus Sheridan at The Sales Lion writes in Why Exclamation Points are Dead and You should Never Use them in Your Content Marketing Again:

“When you use exclamation points in your web copy, it has the opposite effect you’re looking for! …Almost every day I find myself looking at dozens of blog articles, web pages, and landing page offers that my clients have produced in an effort to teach, inform, and ultimately convert their audiences. And almost 100% of the time, when these writers…are trying to show excitement with their messaging, they end up using an exclamation point to emphasize their points…Here is the funny thing about exclamation points though: They cheapen your message… Somehow, over time, we’ve all made a psychological connection between exclamation points and “that sales guy” on your local TV commercials screaming, “Boy do we have a deal for you!!!”… the best web copy…should not include exclamation points, otherwise you greatly risk having the opposite intended effect.… great web copywriters understand how the customization of font, style, bold, sub-headers, etc. are essential to getting their message across in a way that, to the reader, ‘feels right.’ “

 

Empire State College Online Writing Center makes a similar point:

An exclamation point is like a traffic cop’s whistle; it demands your attention. Use an exclamation point for emphasis, usually to show surprise or some strong emotion…Exclamation points should be used sparingly. Try to rely on strong verbs, and not punctuation, to convey emotion.”

no ex pts pix

Wherever we’re going with this exclamation mania, I’m grateful that folks are writing, and I hope they continue to do so.  I hope we end up at a place where we can  rely more on precise, expressive vocabulary with meaningful sentence structure, language, rather than punctuation, to convey our messages and emotions.

 

Sources:

Ben Yagoda  http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/the-point-of-exclamation/

Christopher Muther  http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/style/2012/04/25/how-mail-and-texting-have-driven-people-overuse-exclamation-points-confessions-serial-exclamation-pointer/bSKe7sq0TEZLHcq1bq5A7M/story.html

Marcus Sheridan  http://www.thesaleslion.com/exclamation-point-dead-content-marketing/

Further reading:

http://purduecco.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/overused-exclamation-points/

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-23781044

 

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “EXCLAMATION FIXATION

  1. excellent article!!! Love it!!!

  2. Good points. I mostly reserve exclamation marks (and not too often at that) for dialogue. Some people, especially children, tend to talk in exclamations, so one here and there will emphasize that. Thanks for sharing your post.

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