Friday, 13 July 2007


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‘Exclamation Mark: n. a punctuation mark (!) indicating an exclamation.’ ‘Exclamation: n. a sudden cry or remark expressing surprise, strong emotion, or pain.’ Not my words, reader, the words of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The exclamation mark does, obviously, have its purposes. ‘Stop!’ on a sign prohibiting you from entering the pilot’s cabin on an aeroplane or a staff-only area in a brothel is perfectly acceptable (unless you’ve paid extra to enter the staff-only area, so to speak); in a piece of literature, a man who is rapidly sinking into a vat of cement is entitled to cry ‘help!’; and a camping store advertising its sale in what it hopes is an amusing way is, if I’m feeling kind, justified in displaying posters bearing the words ‘Now is the Summer of our Discount Tents!’

I would estimate, though, that only around 4% of exclamation marks are being used correctly. Misappropriations are everywhere: ‘Hello!’, someone writes to me in a text message, ‘How are you?!’ I try to imagine these words and punctuation marks being spoken, but how do you exclaim ‘hello’ or ask someone how they are in a sudden and surprising manner? I suppose you could wait around a corner and then jump out at them whilst wearing some harrowing apparel such as an Adrian Chiles mask.

The ubiquity of this misuse is not merely in private exchanges. ‘Newspapers!’ reads a sign at the newsagent’s (I’m glad it did though, I had gone in for a haircut). ‘Menu!’, I read on a blackboard outside a pub, as if we’re living in Moscow in 1989 and no-one has seen any bread for eight weeks.

And then there is multiple use. Multiple bloody use. A bookmark from a library tells me to ‘Take care!!’. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘no, we really do mean it’. But what exactly do they mean? Are they being sarcastic? In reality, are they saying I shouldn’t take care - I should cross the road in front of a bus or eat a Rustlers beefburger?

At least the library restricted themselves to just two exclamation marks. I’ve seen anything up to 11 in a row in emails, and it isn’t nice. The people who exclaim with such gay abandon should just give up and have the words ‘LOOK I’M MAD, ME’ tattooed in red onto their foreheads.

The Super Furry Animals were close to naming their fifth studio album ‘The Text Message is Ruining the Traditional Pub Quiz’. I wish to assert that misuse of the exclamation mark is ruining the ability to exclaim. Very soon people will think the ‘stop!’ signs are just a bit of a laugh, as the exclamation mark becomes merely a new version of the full-stop. In short, it will be overused into normality.

What I suggest is that each British citizen be restricted to the use of five exclamation marks per year.

Honestly, you really don’t need any more than that. Trust me!

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Blogger Gez said...

LOL GUD 1 DAN I NO UR RITE!!!!!!!!1!!1!!

13 July 2007 at 10:54  
Blogger Gez said...

Pardon me while I purge myself with sandpaper and bleach.

13 July 2007 at 10:55  
Blogger Matt said...

An astute observation but a well-founded one at that.

It pains me to say this but my mother, for all her great qualities, is guilty of this mishap on an astoundingly regular basis.

A recent e-mail I received from the old girl contained this gem;

"Apart from giving you what I ate yesterday and how many fillings i have.... i think that they have all the info!!!!!"

Whilst I feel a little bad for shopping my own mother for this heinous misinterpretation of when and how the exclamation mark should be used, it's quite clear that I have been left with no choice. This is small fry for Susan; I kid ye not when I say I have received e-mails with up to 30 in one go.

The crass over-use of the full stop mid-sentence in the example given above, sigifying a long pause, could also be worthy of a slagging off but she did spawn me so I have to give her a break somewhere along the way.

And for the record, I've tried to put this crime right so many times by telling her it will not stand. Alas, it has never hit home.

13 July 2007 at 12:45  
Blogger Tom said...

Excuse the misogyny, but women are particularly guilty here. I suspect that it's mainly because they are more afraid than men are of their jokes being taken out of context, and hence feel the need to over-emphasise the tone of their prose.

I've deleted the next sentence. Read into that what you will.

13 July 2007 at 14:25  
Blogger Paul said...

"A recent e-mail I received from the old girl contained this gem;"

Should've been a colon, Matthew.

Excellent call, Dan. I personally have a intense dislike of the exclamation mark, largely because my sense of humour demands such a stance.

I find it funny when people are upset by my remarks because I didn't put on five winking smile emoticons and a fleet of exclamation marks.

13 July 2007 at 14:33  
Blogger Gez said...

I'm ashamed that I've only just got the joke about "discount tents".

Excellent Shakespeare based pun.

27 July 2007 at 10:46  
Blogger Barry Leiba said...

«What I suggest is that each British citizen is restricted to the use of five exclamation marks per year.»

Oh, my.
Make that "be restricted"; one needs the subjunctive mood after "suggest".

1 August 2007 at 05:21  
Blogger Gez said...

He's right, you know.

1 August 2007 at 13:47  
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