The Misunderstood Exclamation Mark

The Misunderstood Exclamation Mark
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I am not a big emoji user. I appreciate emojis for what they are – cute ways to express a feeling and that’s about it. The bitmojis (especially ones that look so true to life) do intrigue me, and I’m willing to use them a little bit more (no pun intended.) I’m definitely not of a fan of all the all caps type. I don’t like being screamed at in person, and I really don’t like being screamed at via email or text, and let’s face it, that’s really what the all caps type feels like.

I am a big believer in punctuation. Properly used punctuation makes all the difference. The period, the comma and the sparingly used semicolon are all excellent tools in the written English language. Generally speaking, they do their punctuation jobs quite well. The exclamation mark – that is a different story. I have a close bond with this mark, and I really feel the need to stick up for my all time favorite and, often misunderstood, piece of punctuation.

First of all, the exclamation mark is extremely underappreciated. And notice I didn’t end that sentence with an exclamation mark. That would de-value my most favorite key on my laptop’s keyboard. This very special mark is also overused – a lot. Think of all of those emails and texts, which include way too many of them. I’m talking about triple or even quadruple use of the mark. It’s too much. The exclamation mark stands beautifully and simply on its own. A single exclamation mark says so much.

I have a very good friend who I met while working together in magazine publishing just about 20 years ago. I can honestly say that the basis of our friendship was the exclamation mark. She would email me asking me for a piece of information she needed to complete a task, and she would sign off her email by writing “Thanks!” followed by her name. I had seen that same word many times followed by a comma. It meant nothing to me like that. I’d file those emails in a to do pile and get to them whenever I could – no rush at all. But that exclamation mark following the word “Thanks” – that made me want to get it done right away and do it well. It gave me that extra motivation that I needed.

Rachel Levy Lesser

Soon I started signing work emails the very same way. I believe that little extra mark made a difference. I felt totally legitimate in asking for someone to complete a task for me after signing off that way. I was saying to them that I was excited about what they could do for me and that it meant something to me. As an aside, the exclamation mark can also be used to follow a personal sign off including my most favorite – the hugs and kisses one. Imagine how good it feels to receive an email from someone signed “xoxo!” It says here are some hugs and kisses just for you – really, here they are. I mean it. I care.

I like the exclamation mark so much that I also include it in my greeting on an email or even text as in “Hi!” To me that says good morning, good afternoon, I’m happy to be writing to you. Aren’t you happy to me hearing from me? That extra mark is a friendly hello, a smile if you will. But it’s not too much. It’s nothing like the exclamation mark’s nemesis, that evil all caps type.

The single exclamation mark also works really nicely alongside the question mark. You know what I mean?! It says I have a question for you. I don’t know the answer but I’m really interested in hearing what you have to say about the matter. Please answer me and let me know what you think. It’s a nice touch to the right inquiry and will more often than not get you the answer you need.

Of course the most common use of the exclamation mark is for describing some kind of exciting/crazy event or feeling. As in it was so hot I almost passed out! Or I am so tired I could sleep standing! These instances, I believe, are where my favorite mark can get overused. I recommend being frugal with it in these instances. Save it for a truly unique or unbelievable emotion or feeling. Let the descriptive words speak for themselves. The exclamation mark, in my book, works best when words simply can’t do the feeling justice. Know what I mean?! I think you do. Oh and thanks for reading!

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