I give up, she exclaimed!

March 1st, 2011 by Kat Kingsley-Hughes

Last week I began what I can only call a ‘fast‘ on my use of the exclamation point (exclamation mark if you are from the UK).

Today I am officially ending this attempt to not exclaim. Tomorrow I could have said I made it through the seven days (with only a few minor infractions) but in truth I really gave up trying days ago. As easy as it sounds to give up using exclamation points, it was actually very hard to do.

Funnily enough I found that I didn’t use many exclamation marks in general writing so the ban didn’t pose much of a problem to my work. Luckily, this last week I have mostly been concentrating on writing the theory essay for my MA Screenwriting course so not a lot of exclamations were called for. (If I had been writing for the screen, working on my novel or coding it would have been far more difficult of course, but my MA course has been taking far too much of my time these past few weeks to attempt much else.)

Where I found I needed an exclamation point most was on Twitter and Facebook. This is because, let’s face it, an awful lot of what we talk about in these places is bullshit. This “phatic” conversation – consisting of jokes, light hearted teasing, things said tongue-in-cheek, a bit of textual back and forth banter between friends, strangers and colleagues – is just plain hard to do without the much-maligned, but under-appreciated, exclamation point.

I found out that I used an exclamation mark to perform so many different functions. For example, an exclamation mark:

  • softens comments that might be misread.
  • lightens the impact of friendly teasing.
  • ‘lifts’ the appearance of the mood of the writer
  • adds flavor!
  • adds a textual smile, in the absence of body language, at those times when you want to make it clear you are joking but don’t want to go all-out and put in an emoticon.

During my almost-week I noticed, not only that everyone around me in all areas of life seemed to be watching the end of my sentences ready to pull me up if I accidentally used one, but also that I found my own voice feeling duller and duller. As my finger hovered time and time again over ‘that key’ on the keyboard I would pause and mentally shrink backwards, like a shy kid who wants to crack a joke but worries that others might not get it or worse that they might misunderstand it. I found it made me self-conscious. And, bizarrely, not only in writing. In speech too!

I ended up mentally yearning to add an exclamation but resorting to some sneaky tricks to avoid doing so, for example:

  1. :) or ;)
    using a smiley can replace an exclamation albeit with the rather unfortunate effect of seeming cutesy.  I found I got almost as creative with emoticons as I used to be back during all those years that began with 199-!
  2. {nothing}
    Put nothing, no form of punctuation, at the end. Does not work – especially if you’re trying to be funny. Putting nothing at the end of a sentence feels vaguely naked
  3. “.”
    A full stop, otherwise known as a period to US folks. (I grew up in the US and the UK so henceforth in this post I will call it a “full stop” as ‘period’ makes me titter almost as much as the word “iPad” did when the name of that wondrous gadget was first announced last year!) A full stop works just fine for serious stuff. Obviously. For humor a “.” seems too final. Too dour. Too disturbingly sensible.

    A full stop is ok for deadpan – and I do like deadpan – but I’ve got to be honest: being a girl, deadpan frequently backfires on me. If I crack a deadpan ‘I’m-playing-dumb-here’ kind of joke (god-forbid about something techie or scientific) most blokes will seriously** think that I am being seriously dumb. Dyeing my hair blonde has just made this worse, so as much as I like deadpan humor, guys really don’t get it coming from a girl.

    ** Er, guys, I really DO KNOW that Taco Bell is not a Mexican Phone company but it’s funnier for us both if I play along, so suck up that fear of being politically incorrect and just laugh! ;)

  4. ASCII, hex and HTML e.g. !
    Well, I thought it was cute!  Of course it doesn’t really work because most humans don’t speak ASCII. (Also see 3 above re: deadpan. Guys just can’t be sure it wasn’t a dumb broad making an accidental – but geekily bloody hilarious! – typo.)
  5. a “mehclamation” point ¡
    This one proved quite handy (although some people thought it was the letter i.  It’s not as you can see: i ¡ but let’s face it you’d have to be an eagle-eyed font-loving geek to spot that in a tweet!) It’s actually quite handy if you want to do this on the iPhone/iPad just hold down the exclamation and you’ll have the mehclamation on a menu.

So at the end of trying all these different things to avoid exclaiming when I just wanted to EXCLAIM! I realized sometimes you just have to!

So, what did I learn???
Mainly I learned what I already knew before I started: I use exclamation marks too much! It’s something I’ve known for years and long have I watched and wondered at writers who seem to get by without using them and yet manage to be funny without their jokes being misconstrued or offence being taken. Quite probably it has never occurred to them to think otherwise (in which case I sincerely hope they are not reading this, lest they develop a sudden punctuational self-consciousness and destroy their own diamond – yet understated – wit!!)

Am I using them less now?
Perhaps. I’m certainly thinking about it more. I might even go as far as to say it’s made me rephrase things more precisely – which is always good as it aids brevity**.

If you think you overuse exclamations too I would really recommend you try your own exclamation point ‘fast’ – if only because it makes you think about how you mean something to be heard, rather than just the words on the page. And hopefully maybe you will do better at it than me! Let me know!!

– Thanks for reading!

Next week!! Getting rid of those two most-overused habits — the m-dash and… the ellipsis!

** And of course if you’ve read THIS far down this page, you know well that brevity is NOT one of my strong points! 😉

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 at 12:19 am and is filed under Flotsam. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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