I’m not a big fan of rant blog posts. They get old fast, especially when every blogger on the block is doing them.
But problematic punctuation? Well, that pushes all my buttons.
Now I’m not one of those punctuation snobs who quibble over each extra comma or point out every misused apostrophe. Publicly. On Twitter.
It’s just that, well, it seems to be the rage these days to end every other sentence with what I used to explain to my first graders was so special that we called it ‘the excitement mark.’
Yes, I’m talking about the exclamation point.
My Australian friend, Di Mace of Word Swords, coined a term that I absolutely love: Wanton Exclamation Point. It is the perfect way to describe the misappropriation of a punctuation mark that used to have a clear and focused purpose: to tell us that the author was excited—or astounded or angry—about something.
I asked Di if I could borrow her expression and she graciously agreed.
What set me off
Not long ago, I read a blog post that contained, I kid you not, 18 exclamation points. The crazy part of me had to do the math. The post was 55 sentences long, so that figured out to be 33 percent of the sentences ending with an exclamation point.
That is like screaming at your reader in every third sentence!
Okay. I couldn’t resist ending the above sentence with an exclamation point. But you will notice that—except for my slightly sarcastic headline and the silly section at the end of this post— it’s the only one I put in this entire piece.
I was scanning the comments on a Facebook post the other day and I ran across someone who, I swear to God, had placed an exclamation point at the end of every single sentence. I could only look at it with awe and wonder.
Cut out all those exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
I never thought of it in quite the way Fitzgerald expressed it here, but he is right. As the reader, the overuse of exclamation points makes me feel that the writer is trying to set up the emotions in the piece, telling me what she thinks I should be feeling, rather than letting her words do the job.
So who is this Wanton Exclamation Point?
If Wanton Exclamation Point were a character, she would be that provocative can-can dancer dressed in red in an old west saloon (red, because she wants your attention). Or the overdressed, excessively friendly woman on the bar stool. You know the type.
Wanton Exclamation Point likes to be around people, but she is kind of pushy and tends to overstay her welcome. Sometimes she interrupts people mid-sentence with a loud, obnoxious shout. And, because she is always surprised or angry or excited about something, she can be a bit of a drama queen.
The first online dictionary I checked, Dictionary.com, had the most perfect definitions of the word “wanton.”
…careless; reckless; without regard for what is right.
…unrestrained; loose, especially a woman.
…extravagantly or excessively luxurious.
…wasteful or squandering.
Fits Ms. Wanton Exclamation Point to a tee, doesn’t it? Because the overuse of this once special punctuation mark is careless, reckless and extravagant—to the point of making our eyes glaze over and confusing us about what the writer is really feeling.
Cutting Wanton Exclamation Point down to size
One way to be sure Wanton Exclamation Point doesn’t push her way into our content is to read the stuff we write out loud, paying particular attention to the punctuation.
Go ahead, if you can do it with a straight face, read the ad copy below (or anything else you happen to have handy) in a state of screaming, high-pitched excitement—as the exclamation at the end of each sentence indicates:
“You told us and we listened! You said you needed shorter, easier-to-understand videos! Our production team designed this special WordPress Starter set just for you! It’s like having a WordPress expert sitting alongside of you all the way! Click here to see a sample video! And if you order in the next 48 hours, you get 30% off! Tell your friends! This deal won’t last! One order per customer, please!”
Sounds kind of silly, doesn’t it?
One friend, after trying this exercise, said, “As I read it, I imagined the writer was some young girl who also writes in big loopy cursive and dots her ‘i’s’ with hearts.”
That one made me smile.
Okay now, this is your chance to come into the comments and end each sentence with an exclamation point at the end.
C’mon. You know you want to do it.
An audio version of this post: