Tiffany Gee Lewis: Time to kill the exclamation point!

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 13 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT



Just now, I sent an email to my sister with approximately seven exclamation points at the end. She just got a new job in New York City, and I wanted to show my ecstatic support!!

My writing friends would be horrified. In the writing world, the exclamation point is like creme brulee, to be eaten on occasion and only in small doses. To throw it out in the middle of a regular old email is a sign of literary gluttony.

But I must confess. When I am not under the all-seeing eye of the writing world, I gorge on the exclamation point. I am also guilty of bingeing on sideways smiley faces, capital letters and hyperbole.

Why can’t I seem to get control of my disorder?

Chances are, if you’re texting, Instagramming or commenting online, you’re right there with me, throwing in all sorts of extras to spice up your writing.

Language is a delicate, nuanced instrument for communication. As we’ve morphed from the handwritten letter to the email to the text or comment, we’ve had to navigate how to convey our emotions in shorter bursts of thought. We no longer pen epistles, where we’re given pages and pages of paper to explain our meaning. Without nuance, the written word often falls flat.

Consider the following statements:


That’s cute.

That’s funny.

I can’t believe you did that.

Without inflection, these phrases sound angry or, at the least, bored. It’s called cold communication for a reason. We could spend hours deciphering the intent behind the word “whatever.” Even the phrase “That’s so funny” doesn’t seem believable until you do this:

Whatever! ;)

That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, LOL. :)

That’s SOOOOO funny!!!!!!!!!!

I can’t believe you did that. :( :( :(

Only when we lace our texts, comments, emails and status updates with emoticons, capital letters and half a dozen exclamation points do we feel that we can properly convey our feelings in 140 characters or less.

But even true meaning is being overshadowed by the ubiquitous nature of our comments. Along with doctoring our sentences, these days, we are prone to write with unrestrained exaggeration. Almost daily, we throw out phrases like: “I’ve never been so mad in my entire life!!!!”; “That is seriously the cutest picture I’ve ever seen.”; or “Dying laughing.”

Language has always been a fussy thing. There are those who believe verbage and writing should remain static. The purists were up in arms about the liberties Shakespeare took with language. These same elites have been bemoaning the decline of language and grammar for 500 years.

The exclamation point didn’t even get put on the keyboard until the 1970s, but long before that, the highly literate were complaining.

"Cut out all those exclamation marks,” the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once lamented. “An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.”

We can only wonder what he would think of today’s communication. I'm certain he wouldn't be laughing out loud.

And yet, we seem to be getting along just fine. What is the big fuss? Certainly there are bigger issues to tackle. Is the exclamation point just another First World Problem?

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