Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Flame on!

You may find this hard to believe, but I have a few literary pet peeves. A few. Exclamation proliferation is right at the top.
It goes without saying that more than one punctuation mark at the end of a sentence is one too many, no matter how strong a sentiment you're trying to get across. Oh, I've slipped up on occasion; it's laziness, really. I don't want to put the effort into using words that show I'm emphatic, so I'll slather my sentence with cheap punctuation and hope no one notices. One exclamation mark will do, thank you. Any more, and you're just using superfluous punctuation to compensate for lack of willingness or ability to state a position effectively.
But it's not just glaring punctuation violations that bug me. In e-mails where I work, everybody says "thanks!" when we mean "thanks." This isn't illegal or improper or anything, but it's dangerous. Generally, when I'm sending a "Thanks!" message, I'm thanking someone for telling me how to update a router firmware, and while I do appreciate this sort of information, it's not worth breaking out the pompoms, unless you're really into firmware (*cough*that's what she said*cough*). But if you don't conform to the punctuation expectation, you might seem ungrateful or sarcastic. I mean, you could say "Thanks. :)," but I think that's probably worse.
The real problem to all of this is, what do you do if you are emphatic about your gratitude? If you send me a box of chocolates, that's way better than information about router firmware. How do you express that? You'd have to say "Thanks!!" which, as I mention above, is a grammar felony. It's inflation, is what it is. Pretty soon we'll be taking a basket of punctuation to the market and having our baskets stolen, punctuation strewn all over the ground.

Who is to blame for punctuation inflation? I have a hypothesis, but it's one that makes me very sad. I think it may be comic books. Now I call it a hypothesis because, while comic books have committed horrific crimes against punctuation for many years, I'm not sure if those crimes found their way to the mainstream. Seriously, though? Marvel Comics seemed to have issued a ban on ending sentences with periods that lasted through the sixties and the seventies. And I don't mean that hyperbolically. I didn't have a lot of friends when I was a kid, apparently, because once, I counted all the exclamation marks in X-Men Issue 1. 551. It's almost as sad that I did that as it is that I still remember it. I've got a mouldering X-Men comic from the 70s in which there is not one single period. Heaping helpings of hyphens, dashes, and ellipses, though. To go with the roughly 20 exclamation marks a page. Yeah, I counted. Shut up.
That's all I got to say. Excelsior, ya'll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


saltyrose said...

I feel the same about the "thanks!" thing and about exclamation marks in general. I even disdain them in contexts where they might be apprpriate. When I instant message someone I say, "boo" as in "Surprise!" but because I don't often include an exclamation mark I'm sure it could be read as, "You suck."

Honestly, because I'm so soft-spoken it hardly ever seems right to use an exclamation mark no matter how emphatic I might be feeling.

I suppose to get around the "thanks!" thing one could say, "Thanks a lot," or "many thanks." Although now that I'm looking at them one sounds sarcastic and the other out-dated. What a pain.

Anthony said...

Good old Mark Trail never engaged in multiple exclamation marks, but he totally undermined its impact by punctuating every non-question sentence as an exclamation. Oddly, all of these forcefully blurted sentences still failed to prevent Mark Trail from being utterly, utterly boring.