In the family of punctuation, where the full stop is daddy and the comma is mummy, and the semicolon quietly practises the piano with crossed hands, the exclamation mark is the big attention-deficit brother who gets overexcited and breaks things and laughs too loudly.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
I reread Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves recently and the one thing I took away from this reading was how people seem to have issues with the exclamation point. My opinion toward exclamation points was and still is “use them don’t abuse them”. It’s safe to say my feelings aren’t too strong, but I’m left wondering if someone can truly hate a piece of punctuation?
Gertrude Stein certainly did. She called exclamation points “unnecessary” “ugly” and said “they spoil the line of the writing or the printing”. It’s funny how a few exclamation points would really drive home her point. While these strong words are from a woman who admittedly had a complicated relationship with punctuation in general, others share her views. Literary figures like Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald felt that exclamation points were like laughing at your own joke. It’s enough to make you question what the exclamation point did to anyone.
At least Tom Wolfe loves you exclamation point:
Is it just easier to be annoyed by the exclamation point because overuse of it is so easy to spot? Too many exclamation points can be difficult to read and even more difficult to read and take seriously. But is that enough reason to discount a useful piece of punctuation? Does any other piece of punctuation get so much hate? (I’m looking at you Oxford comma.)
So, do you know have a piece of punctuation you hate? Let me know your feelings on the exclamation point or any other piece of punctuation you might have issue with in the comments below. And for any of you who noticed I didn’t use any exclamation points in this post, guess again!