exclamation mark

My Exclamation Point


I’d stop short of calling it a full-blown crusade. It isn’t like I want to banish them completely. It’s just that I think there are far too many untamed exclamations.

Can’t we just agree to scale them back a bit? (OK, in some cases, A LOT…)

Don’t mean to come off as some punctuation buzz-kill, but my journalistic training taught me to use extreme restraint when ending a sentence.

I liken it to yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded auditorium, when you merely noticed a pocket flashlight. You definitely gain attention, to be sure, but the next time you emit that panicked declaration, it’s not likely to have the same effect. (I illuminated this principle further in my recent post on the overuse of “amazing.”)

Of course, my formal schooling took place before the dawning of the digital age, when so many grammar ground rules would be stretched, ignored or ripped off their hinges.

Nowadays, exclamation points are doled out like Tic Tacs® after a spicy meal. 

E-mail is particularly ripe for these symbols of enthusiasm. Although I’m willing to loosen my collar for this more casual medium, something’s wrong when the exclamations outnumber the periods (or perhaps the sender should be dialing 911 instead of crafting breezy e-mails to work colleagues).

So, let’s get practical…

I believe it’s appropriate to use exclamation points when expressing:

– joy (“That’s terrific!”)

pain (“Ouch!”)

excitement (“Hooray for Jimmy!”)

– surprise (“That’s a real shocker!”)

– indignation (“How dare you!”)

Conversely, I believe it’s inappropriate to use exclamation points to convey:

– simple declarative statements (“The company store is closed Thursday!”)

– false fun (“Get ready for the United Way kick-off!”)

– recognition (“Betty Sue completed the task in record time!”)

– reminders (“Don’t forget to vote today!”)

– general commands (“Please wipe your feet before entering the building!”)

Thanks for reading!!! Sorry, couldn’t resist…