The Tyranny of the Exclamation Mark

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I’m not a tremendous fan of exclamation marks. The old ! has its place, of course. Floating disembodied over surprised comic strip characters, denoting a factorial in mathematics. But I feel it’s dug out an undeserved niche in certain types of correspondence in such a way as to force itself upon those of us who feel exhausted by its enthusiasm.

An example: in any type of semi-formal business correspondence, from email to the lowly sticky-note, where one is either requesting a favour or acknowledging one, isn’t it the most natural thing in the world to end with “Thanks a lot! -Cathy”? Of course it is. Who could blame you? Certainly not me. In moments that will be forever tinged with the taint of shame and weakness, I’ve done it myself.

But I haven’t done so unthinkingly. In fact, each time has been a struggle: the better, truer part of me striving to end on a (completely appropriate) period. But the ubiquity of the exclamation mark has conspired to make the lack of it seem an intentional slight. The context of modern standard practice may cause readers to assume disinterest or even sarcasm when your thank you comes bearing a mere period. In the end, it’s simpler just to cave and add that painful vertical line.

Why does it matter? Simple honesty. I’ve long harboured the suspicion that many individuals of my acquaintance “laugh out loud” less frequently than their use of this phrase suggests, and I, at least, have no wish to misrepresent myself via disingenuous punctuational emphasis.

(Indeed, this particular acronym has almost forgotten what it stands for, apropos of nothing compulsively, it has become a new type of punctuation: one with absolutely no modifying effect; the Metamucil of the written word, a tasteless fibre to pad your messages while adding zero meaning. “Lets go 2 teh mall lol!!1” indeed.)

But the ! cannot be denied. It is the LOL of the adult world. So many have come to expect it, its absence is more significant than its presence. A period is a slap in the face. You might as well sign off with a string of expletives.

So, I submit. I wait and bide my time. Perhaps the tide will shift. Perhaps, one day, it will be possible to be less than manically enthusiastic in text, and this will be a life choice others can accept. In the meantime, I won’t swim upstream.

Thanks for reading. I mean, thanks for reading!

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