Mighty Red Pen

April 30, 2009

Oh joy! Oh rapture!

Filed under: Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 7:40 pm
Tags: , , ,

Check out “The Joy of Exclamation Marks!” in The Guardian, in which Stuart Jeffries explores why exclamation points seem to be enjoying a revival.

In the ninth book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Eric, one of the characters insists that “Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind.” In Maskerade, the 18th in the series, another character remarks: “And all those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head.”

There are lots of people these days with figurative underpants on their heads. That’s because in the internet age, the exclamation mark is having a renaissance. In a recent book, Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home, David Shipley and Will Schwalbe make a defence of exclamation marks. They write, for instance, “‘I’ll see you at the conference’ is a simple statement of fact. ‘I’ll see you at the conference!’ lets your fellow conferee know that you’re excited and pleased about the event … ‘Thanks!!!!'”, they contend, “is way friendlier than ‘Thanks’.”

Back in the day when I still received snail mail, I recall snickering at the letters I received from one friend because of the inordinate number of exclamation marks he used (in pretty much every sentence) (and don’t say “That’s not nice to snicker behind your friends’ backs” because hi, have we met?). And colleagues at one job I had may recall that I threatened to remove the exclamation mark key from the keyboard of a coworker who could! not! stop! using! them!

Since then, I’ve softened in my approach to the slammer and agree that the judicious use of one can communicate a certain kind of feeling that a period simply cannot.

Emphasis on judicious!!!!!!!!

Hat tip to Fritinancy.



  1. A person’s sanity is inversely proportional to the number of exclamation marks they use. I heart Terry Pratchett.

    “And colleagues at one job I had may recall that I threatened to remove the exclamation mark key from the keyboard of a coworker’ – Good times, good times. I think she’s gotten better.

    Comment by Molie — April 30, 2009 @ 8:09 pm | Reply

  2. I once worked for a manager who finished every sentence in her emails with an exclamation mark. So for emphasis on the really important sentences, she had to use two or even three exclamation marks. I found the constant excitment level made reading them very tiring. I also found it rather childish, which is not a good attitude to have towards a boss.

    Comment by Vireya — May 1, 2009 @ 1:46 am | Reply

  3. Isn’t there an “unforeseen” missing in your headline? 😉

    cf. Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore”, Act 2, Finale
    See also: Reflect!

    Comment by rip — May 1, 2009 @ 8:04 am | Reply

  4. Wow, Rip, check that out. I never knew there was an “unforeseen” there. Thanks for the tip!

    Comment by mighty red pen — May 1, 2009 @ 10:45 am | Reply

  5. Love the post! Personally, I’m rather fond of the old exclamation point (or mark -depending on where you hail from). I try to be very restrained in my use of him though. It’s not healthy to over exert the old fellow. =)

    Comment by Pen — May 4, 2009 @ 4:56 am | Reply

  6. A boss used to say, “Use an exclamation point only if you’ve been recently disemboweled.” I don’t think she coined the remark but it has stuck with me for many years.

    Comment by An Onymous Poster — May 11, 2009 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

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