Exclamation Points Are Like Car Horns
You may have seen a lot of these lately…
Until the mid 1970s, the exclamation point (also known as a “dembanger” or “dog’s cock”) was not featured on standard typewriters. Instead, one typed a period, backspaced and then typed an apostrophe. While this made for rather crooked conclusions to imperative clauses, it also compelled the writer to give pause before employing what, in our opinion, has since become the most overused key on the QWERTY board.
And texting has only made things worse. In finalizing plans for a first date, a colleague was recently scolded by his companion for texting “See you tonight.” She felt his use of the period—or, to be more eye-rollingly specific, his omission of the exclamation point(s)—implied he wasn’t excited to meet her.
Serious authors have, for centuries, condemned inaccurate and flamboyant use of the bang. J.L. Basford wrote, “One who uses many periods is a philosopher; many interrogations, a student; many exclamations, a fanatic.” Elmore Leonard allotted himself no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. And after completing a young writer’s first novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald commanded the boy to “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” (Or, today, like shouting that you are laughing-out-loud at someone else’s joke.)
Either way, one would find great benefit in consulting Fowler’s Modern English Usage, which states: “Excessive use of exclamation marks in expository prose is a sure sign of an unpractised writer or of one who wants to add a spurious dash of sensation to something unsensational.”
Yes, riling over the sphere of unsensational, spurious dashing is a bit fastidious and fun-less for a Friday afternoon, so we’ll conclude with a respectful suggestion to dog’s cock lovers everywhere…
Think of the exclamation point as a car horn: a little goes a long way. Lay on it too hard and everyone’s going to think you’re a moron.
- — C. Brian Smith