E is for exclamation mark

In Chekhov’s short story The Exclamation Mark, a civil servant trying to get to grips with the rules of punctuation develops a paranoid fantasy, in which everyday objects transform themselves into malevolent exclamation marks.

I’m with F Scott Fitzgerald who wrote, “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.” Elmore Leonard wrote of exclamation marks: “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.”

An exclamation mark is like shouting or whooping. It’s like screaming, ‘I REALLY MEAN THIS’, after you’ve spoken. And in business writing exclamation marks are not to be encouraged, aside from special occasions.

Too many emails use exclamation marks, and they’re especially irritating when used in groups of two or three. Admittedly, email has seen exclamation marks make something of a comeback. Before the 1970s, typewriters did not have anything akin to an exclamation mark on the keyboard, which may have been another reason for their rarity. It was a lot of effort to type a full stop, then back space, push the shift key and type an apostrophe.

So, when to use exclamation marks? Use them sparingly and then they will have the impact you need. They should be used to demonstrate surprise, anger or joy. That’s all.  And, if you’re not sure, use a full stop instead.

So is ‘Thanks!!!’ more grateful than thanks? I don’t think so.

I have found two places with exclamation marks, does this make them more joyful than other destinations? There’s Saint-Louis-du-Ha!Ha! in Quebec and Western Ho! In England.



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  • © 2014 Elen Lewis