The exclamation point. Lately I’m trying to avoid it, or cut down gradually the way you do when you can’t go cold turkey on chocolate or that late afternoon cup of coffee.
Like coffee, this bit of punctuation has not always been part of my repertoire. I simply avoided them, thinking they belonged in the category of the circles or hearts young girls used to dot the i in their handwritten signature.
That was then. Slowly I began ending sentences with undue excitement. It crept into emails. Into my books. In more informal settings, I might even explode with a burst of three!!! Occasionally I’d throw in a question mark to show mixed wonderment--!?!
I know I’m not alone; we are in a time of exclamation inflation. But that doesn’t make me feel any better. It reminds me of the time I went back home to visit my folks in a Detroit suburb after years of exposure to Boston’s manic driving practices. There I was in the Midwest at a red light with my left-turn signal on. The light turned green and, without thinking, I turned quickly to beat the line of on-coming traffic. Cruising down the new street, I happened to glance over at my dad, who was looking at me in surprised disappointment. “Susie,” he said sadly, “what has happened to you?” (Note to East Coast drivers: Darwinism does not apply to driving etiquette in other parts of the country.)
So why had the exclamation point parked in my punctuation stable, I wondered. Is it part of the emoticon boom that comes with email? I’ve never slapped a J into a note to friends or close business associates. I’ve never even considered the more sedate form of :). Maybe throwing in a few !!! was my way of joining the crowd.
Or maybe--it occurred to me—it’s not the times, but that I began to write for children. I really hope not, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t use them in my articles for Harper’s Bazaar, National Geographic Traveler or Discovery.
I hate the idea that it could be the writing-for-kids theory. Did I really think they really need a mark to show them when to be excited? Hope not. It feels like talking down to kids in a way. Or worse, a crutch for bad writing.
I will continue to monitor my use of exclamation points carefully, but I am curious about what others think of this matter. Do you find yourselves plastering them into your sentences more than before? And if so, why?