There was a fun item on the Today Programme this morning about exclamation marks. Specifically it was talking about how Donald Trump uses them all the time in his tweets. People were pretty scathing about the practice, but there was one fact I hadn’t come across before that tickled me.
Did you know that exclamation marks were originally referred to as a ‘note of admiration’? They were used specifically to express wonder at something. What a wonderful fact! Marvellous!
It was later that they became more widely used to indicate strong feelings or emphasis of any type, or raised volume.
The overuse of exclamation marks in prose does irritate me. I try to use as few as possible. It feels lazy to rely on them to convey strength of feeling or drama. However, I have no problem using them informally on social media though. I use them on Facebook and Twitter and in my e-mails all the time. Yes, it’s lazy - but in casual conversation, you are just trying to get a point across concisely. I think it often seems cold to use a full stop, especially when writing short sentences or single words. ‘*Congratulations.’ *doesn’t feel as friendly as ‘*Congratulations!‘. *Maybe I just have a need to appear enthusiastic about everything.
If you are trying to avoid a task today and need a distraction, there is a Wikipedia article on exclamation marks that has some fun facts. Did you know, for instance, that in printing a ! can be referred to as a slammer? Or that people who speak a type of British slang called Commonwealth Hackish call it a pling? (Or, indeed that there was a type of slang called Commonwealth Hackish?) Well, you do now!
If you want to find the segment on catch-up, it was broadcast about 8:15am on BBC Radio Four today.