The exclamatory sentence (one that generally ends in an exclamation point) is defined simply as expressing strong feeling.
I’ve been thinking about exclamation points lately, and wondering why they seem to be more pervasive in written communication than they used to be. I read recently in one of my favorite magazines that “Americans must have invented the exclamation point — it’s their state of mind.” I delighted in that sentiment, which was delivered by an Indian woman who became a U.S. citizen this year. I have been accused of overusing this punctuation mark, and combining them with others unnecessarily. Can you believe it?! Where do people get these silly ideas?!
Remember the Seinfeld episode about exclamation points? Here’s an excerpt:
*Pendant publishing. Elaine is at Lippman’s office.*
Elaine: You wanted to see me, Mr. Lippman?
Lippman: I was just going over the Jake Jarmel book and I understand you worked with him very closely.
Elaine: Yes, krhm, yes I did.
Lippman: And, anyway I was just reading your final edit, um, there seems to be an inordinate number of exclamation points.
Elaine: Well, I felt that the writing lacked certain emotion and intensity.
Lippman: Oh, “It was damp and chilly afternoon, so I decided to put on my sweatshirt!”
Elaine: Right, well…
Lippman: You put exclamation point after sweatshirt?
Elaine: That’s that’s correct, I-I felt that the character doesn’t like to be ch-ch-chilly…
Lippman: I see, “I pulled the lever on the machine, but the Clark bar didn’t come out!” Exclamation point?
Elaine: Well, yeah, you know how frustrating that can be when you keep putting quarters and quarters in to machine and then *prrt* nothing comes out…
Lippman: Get rid of the exclamation points…
Elaine: Ok, ok ok …
Lippman: I hate exclamation points…
Mr. Lippman, do not malign the exclamation point, only its misuse. Maybe it’s the wide use of text messaging, or maybe it’s the use of emoticons (:-)) that has renewed people’s interest in expressing themselves more fervently. But I do agree: one ! is enough after any sentence that expresses strong feeling. Good rule of thumb (and one I will try to follow), is to select a punctuation mark and use just that one — correctly.