RIP: Exclamation Mark. Died of advertising overuse in early part of this century. Missed most by cheerleaders, toy manufacturers, and big box stores.
I think it’s time we resuscsitate the common foe of grammar snobs everywhere: the much-misaligned exclamation mark. Long seen as the drunken frat boy of the punctuation world, this happy-go-lucky squiggle-and-dot has been littered haphazardly by many of advertising’s elite to bring pep! and enthusiasm! to otherwise dreary products inhabiting dusty shelves. Don’t want to take that fiber supplement or watch a documentary segment on the plumbing at Alcatraz? Add some exclamation marks, and suddenly it’s good! for! you! It’s enough to make one cringe upon seeing them.
So perhaps rightfully, a war has been waging for some time on this golden retriever of grammar, trying to put to rest the mark that only wants to make you feel oh-so-good about whatever sentence tail it’s slobbering on. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? And with advertising budgets drifting to the sterile world of cyberspace, it seems as though the exclamation mark has been relegated to a gentler age, a time of pastel tract homes, sock hops, and “Calgon! Take Me Away!”
But, I’m here to say that it’s time to give a second look to this misaligned exclamation mark. I’m not suggesting we pepper it here and there like a paragraph pep rally on crack. But one, maybe two, of these beauties sprinkled throughout a document might just help the reader understand that the author really believes the enthusiasm he or she is trying to portray in words. In a retail marketing paragraph, an exclamation mark at the end can leave the consumer with an impression of excitement that can last all the way to the cash register. An exclamation mark at the end of a headline can bring a sense of festivity or community to the statement.
In these desperate times of moderation, the best rule regarding the exclamation mark may be: use, don’t abuse.
Next week… can somebody give some love to little ellipses?