Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Exclamation Points in Danger of Extinction

Once upon a time was once fresh as a cue to introduce a tale set in an earlier era, usually one wherein fairy godmothers helped orphans triumph in a cruel, cold world.

All’s fair in love and war was once conventional wisdom without regard for consequences that occasionally left bodies for the coroner to tear asunder. Ugly custody battles and PTSD have helped us rethink this cliché, and it's fallen out of use.

Iconic Image of War
Battlefield Cross
Photo provided by Al Griffin
Indeed experience and overuse dulled the power of these phrases. Something similar is happening to the exclamation point.

Thanks to keyboards smaller than human fingers and character limits across social media platforms, senders use shortcuts. The exclamation point is one.

Why struggle to find the right words to convey shock or snark and surprise when a single or triple exclamation points will suffice. Consider the examples below. The first is language without specificity so the writer tries to give the message some oomph with exclamation points.

Message: Really? Seriously? Really! Seriously!! Don't text me ever again!!!

The second message is one of Shakespeare's brilliant insults, this one from the wounded King Lear to his ungrateful daughter.

Lear: May your womb dry up.

The first lacks specific diction. It doesn't tell the recipient (listener) just how much the speaker despises him or her.

The second needs no help from punctuation. Its declarative form is more chilling because it is both firm and final. The sender doesn’t exclaim and has no need to exclaim. Lear delivers his judgment, and that is all.

Reading Challenge:

As you read memes and other social media messages, look for the exclamation point. Is it being overused? Is its effectiveness endangered? I think you'll find it is.

Writing Challenge:

Review your own messages and write without the exclamation point.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.