Exclamation points used to be a rare signal of extreme intensity.
Now they’re everywhere, from news headlines to business emails and text messages.
Thanks to our smartphone-obsessed culture, the exclamatory has been normalized.
“Exclamation points are becoming the standard after salutations and happy or eager statements such as ‘I’m looking forward to seeing you,'” grammarian Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, tells New York Mag.
“Although my training tells me not to overuse exclamation points because they are shouty and juvenile,” the author of “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” continues, “I find myself using them because I fear being seen as unfriendly or insincere if I only use a period.”
Yet it feels so necessary when we text with our friends, colleagues, or partners.
As far as social scientists understand it, the exclamation point has become such a necessity because many of the conversations we used to have vocally now happen textually.
And the medium, as they say, is the message.
Think about the difference in information you get in a call versus an email. When you’re talking on the phone with someone, you’re not only hearing the words they’re speaking, but their voice, with its movement of pitch. It’s a powerful signal: Women’s voices go up when they’re attracted to someone, while men’s drop.
But with a text or an email, that richness is gone.
Text is a spare medium. All you’ve got are letters and a handful of punctuation marks (and, recently, a seemingly unlimited supply of emoticons). Yet we’re still looking for the same degree of social signaling as on the phone or in person. In turn, punctuation gets magnified in meaning: Periods start to look angry; exclamation points look like friendliness.
But all this exclaiming can be too much in certain contexts. Job-search experts maintain that the exclamation is disastrous in resumes or cover letters. It’s “overly informal,” they say, so keep it out of your formal correspondence.
But when you’re emailing with your friend, it doesn’t hurt to load it with exclamations. You don’t want to end up like the recent Onion headline: “Stone-Hearted Ice Witch Forgoes Exclamation Point.”
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