Newsreel

Loading...
Loading...

Buy Read Love

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hey! I hear exclamation points are back! (The Vegas showgirl of punctuation marks!)


Interesting article from Stuart Jeffries in Guardian on "The Joy of Exclamation Marks!":
There is a town of 1,471 happy souls in Quebec called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!. The second "Ha!", amazingly, is part of the town's name, not my commentary on the first "Ha!". Unlike, for example, the Devon town of Westward Ho! Ho! There, the second "Ho!" is mine. Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! is the only town in the world whose name has two exclamation marks. It will remain so until Wolverhampton is renamed Wolverhampton!! to highlight its funky new Black Country vibe, which, all things considered, seems unlikely.

Jeffries goes on to chronicle the maligning of the poor exclamation point throughout the noble history of publishing, including F. Scott Fitzgerald's assertion that "an exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes."

But wait! That was then! This is now! OMG! The internet is here! And we're all free! free! free! to write like 14-yr-old chat room grrlz!

In their book Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better, David Shipley, a comment editor for the NY TImes, and Will Schwalbe, Hyperion ed-in-chief make a case for the ol' "dog's cock" -- in email, that is:
Exclamation points can instantly infuse electronic communication with human warmth...Because email is without effect, it has a dulling quality that almost necessitates kicking everything up a notch just to bring it up to where it would normally be. If you try saying "Thanks" or "Congratulations" in the flattest tone you can muster, you'll notice it sounds sarcastic. Without an exclamation point, these may read the same way on the screen.

Hooray. I mean, Hooray! (Dang, they're right about that.)

So how does this translate in book mind? For my taste, there's still never an exclamation point in narrative, and as few as possible in dialogue. The Jeffries article also quotes Fowler's Modern English Usage:
Except in poetry the exclamation mark should be used sparingly. 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.

Okay. I mean -- Okay! I get it.

3 comments:

Suzan Harden said...

Okay, now I have the Schoolhouse Rock song Interjections! going through my head. (See, I used a comma because "the feeling's not as strong.")

But I loved! the Vegas! showgirl! picture!!

Colleen Thompson said...

LOL! Loved the post!

I've just about had the exclamation mark beaten out of me in fiction. If I use two or three per book (and we're talking life-and-death suspense with plenty of near misses) it's a lot, but then, those two or three have real impact.

Even in dialogue, I think exclamation marks can push the story over the line between drama and melodrama. And in narrative... perish the thought.

But I save up all those poor, oppressed !!!!! and use them liberally in e-mails.

Lark said...

Yippee!!! If Colleen uses !!s in email, that's good enough for me!! And doesn't all that enthusiasm feel good!!

Alas, in fiction I put them in with joy as I go then search and replace with a period on my final draft. :(