The Point Of The Exclamation Point In The Digital Age

The New York Times recently highlighted a topic that I know has been discussed by many a editor, but maybe hasn't been tackled by web-savvy bloggers: the recent over usage of the exclamation point!!!

Who's to blame for the spawn of the over-exclamation era? As the author of the Times' piece points out, it seems to be correlated with our expansion in technology and how we express ourselves on it. We've become bored from reading email after text after Twitter status update, and we feel the need to shout louder just to be heard, “The unsurprising result has been Weimar-level exclamation inflation, where (it sometimes seems) you have to raise your voice to a scream merely to be heard, and a sentence without blingy punctuation comes across like a whisper.”

This has expanded beyond the exclamation point — even the slightest misstep in punctuation can have a different meaning, a different feel. With the kind of thought and apprehension one might have texting a crush for the first time, if the “rules” of digital age punctuation doesn't come naturally, you may sound antiquated or awkward (though it may be correct English).

Punctuation has taken on new nuances: a period after a sentence via text message can seem condescending, using two question marks is an aggressive way to ask a question, and exclamation is provided with three exclamation marks, not one.

Furthermore, my favorite part of his dissection of grammar was this little anecdote and explanation of how we perceive punctuation in the digital age:

“My 21-year-old daughter once criticized my habit of ending text-message sentences with a period. For a piece of information delivered without prejudice, she said, you don’t need any punctuation at the end (‘Movie starts at 6'). An exclamation point is minimally acceptable enthusiasm (‘See you there!'). But a period just comes off as sarcastic (‘Good job on the dishes.'). For similar reasons, the Obama campaign has encountered blowback over the punctuation in its slogan for the 2012 campaign, which is ‘Forward.' — period included. Austan Goolsbee, the former chairman of the National Economic Council, has been quoted as complaining that because of the period, the feel of the slogan is ‘like forward, now stop.'”

It's true though, isn't it? There are these existing unwritten rules of punctuation that we abide by on our social media and communication. What do you think about how social media and digital writing has changed our views of punctuation? Have you noticed it?

[Image credit: Shutterstock]

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19 Responses

  1. FMFashionMixer

    I have noticed the increase usage of the exclamation point (myself included), but when you use it for tweeting I find it’s a good way to grab someone’s attention. It’s already bad enough that anytime you tweet something it will be old news in less than 5 minutes, so by using the exclamation point your tweet about your new post could be read over all the other tweets that someone is scrolling through.

    But it’s true, punctuations have a life of their own! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Hayley

    It’s something I’ve talked about with friends – an exclamation point changes the entire tone of a tweet. Consider a brand tweeting “It can take up to 48 working hours for a reply or you can try calling again. Thanks” – without the exclamation point, their tweets seem very abrupt and rude. With, it sounds a little more friendly at least!

    Reply
  3. Brooklyn Grey

    Have to agree with Hayley on that. It does make the tweet (or text) seem friendlier in a lot of ways. As for using it in terms of fashion blogger journalism, I think we can find other ways to convey a feeling with out it. Does that make sense?

    Reply
  4. Becky Bedbug

    As a teacher, I’m obsessed with correct punctuation. I always end text messages with a full stop. It doesn’t mean I’m being curt. It’s just because I can’t stand to omit it.

    Reply
  5. Nnenna

    I definitely overuse exclamation points and I’ve been trying to cut back recently. I completely agree with the punctuation nuances you mentioned above; sometimes ending a sentence with a period just feels too dry or abrupt. When I’m writing a business email, I will definitely leave out the exclamation points, but even after a few exchanges back and forth I find them creeping in again. I’m now trying to reread whatever I’m writing and consider- “Do I really need this exclamation point?”

    Reply
  6. Charlotte

    I love to use periods. Why wouldn’t I? They’re part of writing and it’s a shame that they’re considered.. sarcastic.

    Reply
  7. Laura Wears

    This is a trend I have definitely noticed too. I think that somehow over-punctuation makes a post, tweet, etc seem more friendly and inviting. Certainly there are limits, however since promoting my blog also means promoting/selling myself to readers, I try to punctuate (and write) in an informal way to hopefully get across tone and feeling. I think it makes things a little more personal. For instance, if I am genuinely surprised, you will see two or three question marks after the sentence of surprise. Not ten. But definitely not just one. Likewise surprise and excitement are reflected by a mash-up of exclamation and questions marks. Again, these don’t span an entire line, but there are enough to (hopefully) express some emotion to the reader.
    Additionally, I frequent a number of blogs with informal writing, and since that style resounds with me, I am likely more apt to write in a similar, informal, over-punctuated voice (to a point…)

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  8. Kathleen Lisson

    I feel guilty responding to comments on my blog with “Thanks.” or Thank you.” It does seem a little standoffish. So I end up using exclamation points.

    Reply
  9. Alicia

    I think writing overall has suffered recently – punctuation, grammar, using the appropriate words in context, all of it. This isn’t just limited to social media, but the immediacy and brevity required for Twitter and text messages certainly aren’t helping…they’re probably making the problem even worse.

    Reply
  10. Noémie @ THE SUN WAS HIGH

    I must admit that I’m guilty of using the exclamation point too much. I’m trying to reduce my use of it, but it’s a bit hard to get rid of an habit you’ve had for quite a long time. In person, I am very expressive (class clown!), but I can also be the absolute master of sarcasm. I tend to use question marks and exclamation points to express my non-sarcastic attitude towards something. I should work on this…

    Reply
  11. Rebecca

    I’m definitely an exclamation point addict. It just seems friendlier to use an exclamation point in certain circumstances.

    Reply
  12. Morganvsmorgan

    I don’t think I’d always assume someone was sarcastic using a period, especially if they used it all the time – but I admittedly use them a lot more when I’m sending cranky messages…haha.

    Reply
  13. Clara

    Exclamation points are beginning to drive me crazy. Every day I catch up on my bloglovin’ feed and see posts like this:
    “I woke up this morning and the weather was so nice! It feels like autumn! I put on these shoes! Aren’t they cute? Even my boyfriend likes them! We made pancakes this morning – they were so sugary and delicious! Here’s a recipe! Don’t forget to add syrup! Then this afternoon I went to the gym! Wow! What a busy day! I need a nap!”
    You sound like you’re on cocaine. Stop.

    Reply
  14. Clara

    That said, when tweeting/texting and you don’t have a lot of space, exclamation points are sort of the quick-and-dirty way to convey emotion. There’s a time and place for them, that’s all.

    Reply
  15. ShoeFloozie

    I’ve definately noticed this. As a writer, I’m obsessed with correct punctuation and grammar. This is my craft after all. I hate to use exclamation marks in my writing because I was always taught that the words you write should be exclamation themselves without using the mark. However, as part of my day job as a communications officer, when working on social media projects, exclamation points are valuable. Social media requires colloquial, friendly and casual tone and is altogether way more fun because you can get away with breaking all the rules your English teacher taught you, am I right?!? Just so long as the world doesn’t revert back to txt spking, *shudder* I’m cool with it.

    Reply
  16. T R

    I definitely agree, certain punctuation can really alter the way people perceive your message. I try to omit excessive exclamation points in regular speech, but I use it when thanking people so as to not come off as sarcastic or unfriendly.

    T – http://cashmereandcrimson.blogspot.com

    Reply
  17. Jess

    I agree with Clara. Recently I have started to notice how some people constantly use the exclamation mark after EVERY sentence. I think that’s overuse. I feel like the person is trying too hard and wants to create a image for others to see of that person. It is like constantly yelling. It can get annoying for me.

    Reply