In defense of exclamation points

In defense of exclamation points
Source: Reusableart.com

(Note: The following was suggested by a post today on another Chicago Now blog, Where the Beer and Whiskey Flow, written by Bill Mayeroff, headlined "End exclamation points NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!")

Ban exclamation points, and the world would have to get louder -- audibly or IN PRINT.

You don't like that idea? Simple! Use the exclamation point.

That's a singular term, by the way, not a plural. There's no need for repeated exclamation points. If you must express insistence, shock, horror, or other sudden emotions, use the words:

Please! I insist.

Oh, no! How horrible!

Wow! I'm just stunned.

But banning exclamation points altogether goes too far. As a former (and, I hope, future) editor, I shudder at the editing work it would take to accomplish such a ban.

And why do it? Some of the greatest moments in the greatest stories benefit from the exclamation point.

For example, take this scene from the end of Chapter 2 of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1901). Sherlock Holmes' new client, Dr. Mortimer, is telling Holmes and Dr. Watson about the discovery of the body of Sir Charles Baskerville:

"There was certainly no physical injury of any kind. But one false statement was made by Barrymore at the inquest. He said that there were no traces upon the ground round the body. He did not observe any. But I did -- some little distance off, but fresh and clear."

    "Footprints?"

  "Footprints."

    "A man's or a woman's?"

Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered:

"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"

 

Would that have had the same effect on generations of readers' spines with a matter-of-fact period? No!

So long live the exclamation point! But do use it carefully, my friends.

For more fun with words, stop by the Margaret Serious page on Facebook.

Sign up! Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Filed under: Words Worth Defending

Comments

Leave a comment
  • I agree with you, I like a sprinkling of exclamation points. One.at.a.time.
    I overuse them perhaps but I never write a series of them. It makes the person look frivolous, in my opinion.
    Great post!

  • Thank you, Kathy. Frivolous is a good word for the impression left by too many exclamation points.

  • See, I totally disagree. The words speak for themselves. If they are well-written, they won't need the exclamation points. The readers will be able to hear the emphasis. All exclamation points do is suggest that your readers are too dumb to know where the emphasis is supposed to be. Give your readers some credit.

  • In reply to Bill Mayeroff:

    Thank you for your views, Bill. I give my readers, including you, quite a lot of credit -- but not for reading my mind. Try reading "Please do this now." Now try "Please! Do this now!" Can you really say it isn't easier to see (or to hear in your mind's ear) the urgency of the second one?

  • In reply to Bill Mayeroff:

    I defer to all the great writers who embraced the use of the exclamation point.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    So do I!

  • Also, feel free to hide/not approve this comment, but would you do me a big favor and link to my blog post at the top of this one where you mention it? That would be fantastic. Or perhaps even "fantastic!". However, I'll decide on the exclamation point later.

    Finally, I approved your two comments on my blog. I didn't get an email notification for either. Sorry.

  • In reply to Bill Mayeroff:

    Thanks again, Bill. I won't hide the comment, because I don't mind people seeing that the link was your idea. By the time you read this, the link will be there.

    Thank you also for approving the comments I left for you. I'm sorry about the glitch, too.

    Stop by for another debate any time!

Leave a comment