When Exclamation Is Not The Point

Graphic (pre-embelishment) courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald

Graphic (pre-embelishment) courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald

Communicating nowadays is like tiptoeing through a minefield.

Words have been the chief medium of communication since shortly after our ancestors crawled out of the primordial ooze.   We’ve witnessed a revolution in the last decade in how those words are delivered, and email, text, and social media have changed the way humans interact.

These new forms are:

  • Instantaneous: Our phones and computers are constantly beeping for attention. We are expected to reply to messages immediately, so taking time to carefully craft a response is a luxury. In addition to editing our own words, we have to watch out for auto correct.  This feature can change the message without our even noticing before our flying fingers press “send.”
  • Informal: You would never start a formal business letter without the salutation, “Dear So-and-So.” Now you wouldn’t begin an email with the word “Dear” unless you were writing to your great aunt. This change has evolved organically to the point where the traditional greeting sounds strange, even in a business email.
  • Impossible…to tell subtext or voice: We’ve lost the verbal and visual clues we once got over the phone or in face-to-face meetings, and many of the old rules for written communication have gone out the window.

The last point is especially troubling, and an entirely new sub-language has arisen to compensate.  It is composed of exclamation points, smiley faces, winking faces, JKs, LOLs and the like.   Using these sub-textual symbols can help to add voice, but the downside is that they have become so common some people can’t deliver a line without one.  Twenty-somethings who have grown up with the new media are both its masters and the worst offenders when it comes to symbol overload.

Witness the exclamation point.

The ex-point used to be merely one of many arrows in our punctuation mark quiver, valued no more and no less than its brethren. It was reserved for situations marked by excitement or enthusiasm – things that were worthy of being, well, exclaimed about. Now it is just a tall period.

One ex-point means nothing.  Like an addict who needs more and more of a drug to get the same high, it now takes 2 to signify even mild enthusiasm, and you’d better be laying down at least 3 of them if you want to convey real excitement.   Where will it end?

I refuse to give in to ex-point tyranny.  I use them consciously and only when excitement is warranted.   By not following the herd on this issue, however, my comments may look dull, sullen, or even angry.  I might think I am taking the grammatical high ground, but without sub-textual symbols to add voice I stand a very real chance of being misunderstood. That’s exactly what happened recently.

One of my young relatives is an ex-point junkie. Her every post is so loaded with them, as well as LOLs and smiley faces, that if Facebook charged per special character she would be flat broke. She recently posted that she had finished watching an entire 8 seasons of a TV show back to back, and was looking for something new to do.   I commented, “Sweetie, if you’re watching 8 hours of reruns at a sitting, it’s time to get a hobby.” I thought she knew me well enough to know I was kidding.   Apparently not.  Her reply was, “I have lots of hobbies.  I just like to watch TV to unwind.”

Note the total absence of LOLs and exclamation points in her reply. By using plain, old periods instead of the ex-points that have become the norm for her every comment, she was sending me a message and I heard it loud and clear; she was not amused.   In hindsight, I should have said: “Sweetie, LOL, if you’re watching 8 hours (insert goofy face) of old reruns LOL at a sitting 🙂 it’s time to get a hobby !!! JK LOL winky winky LMAO 😉 ”

Since it was too late to retract my comment, I moved swiftly to recover lost ground by replying, “Me too, ha ha!!! I watch way too much, even though I know I shouldn’t. LOL!! 🙂 ” Things between us are OK, but it was a close call.

Now that most business communication is conducted via email, these sub-textual symbols have crept in there, as well.  The rules have relaxed in this area, but they have not changed as much as some might think.   Excessive ex-points and LOLs do not belong in business emails.  The writer who misuses them does so at the risk of not being taken seriously and, like it or not, this is especially true for young women.

Young people need to remember that an LOL or smiley face is neither required nor recommended for every situation. By the same  token, I need to lighten up and stop hoarding ex-points like they were gold.  I also need to stop saying “young people” because it makes me sound like Methuselah.

If we all use sub-textual symbols thoughtfully, we can meet somewhere on the middle ground and communicate without our words blowing up in our faces.

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About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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102 Responses to When Exclamation Is Not The Point

  1. I’ve created a weird old-timey hybrid language. I always use a salutation in emails, as well as a signature. I loathe emoticons, but am occasionally guilty of using an exclamation point more to express amusement than excitation. It takes me 15 minutes to type a text because I refuse to abbreviate. Then I get frustrated and just call the person. Whatever works for us, right?

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Ha! (Forgive me, Peg.) I just had to use that one, because you truly made me lol with “a tall period.” You nailed it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Al says:

    If you took examples of the language of today’s cyber youth and put it in a time capsule for a few hundred years, whoever discovered it would be unearthing something very similar to what hieroglyphics was to us.

    Liked by 3 people

    • pegoleg says:

      So true. I am a lot more aware of all the slang, abbreviations, cyber slang, etc that we use, not just the young, because I tutor English as a second language students. I would tear my hair out if I tried to learn this language as a non-native! (exclamation intentional)

      Like

  4. I tend to use the “tall period” in my responses. Shame on me. (There I censored myself in honor of you.) There I did it again. I think I’m recovering. Golly this is hard…

    On a serious note, when I taught online courses, I had to devote a special section of my instruction to avoid “net-speak” in all submissions in the discussion forums. I had to remind these students that this was a virtual classroom, not a chat room. I did it most because I could not understand what anything but LOL meant, but they didn’t need to know that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pegoleg says:

      That’s really interesting, Lorna, and a very good point. Your students HAVE to know that there is a time and place for all kinds of speech, and a classroom generally requires more formality.

      It IS really hard to stop and think about our word and punctuation choices. My youngest tosses the “like” around way too much. I don’t want to be a total nag, so I only point it out occasionally. On the other hand, I know that people judge her (us/we) on how she speaks. When she’s trying to be conscious of the “like”s there’s a definite slow down in the flow of words.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Carrie Rubin says:

    I was never a smiley face or exclamation point kind of gal. And then I started on social media, the land of no eye contact or facial expressions. As an introvert, I love that, but as an effective communicator, I don’t. I can tend toward the sarcastic and I have a teasing nature, so I worried that might not always show through. So enter the smiley and winky faces.

    As for email greetings, I’m old-fashioned, I guess. I still like a greeting. It doesn’t have to be ‘Dear Carrie’ but a ‘Hi Carrie’ before jumping right into the message is always nice. Okay, here it comes… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Elyse says:

    Yes!!!!!! ;). The one that bugs me is the “haha” which seems to mean nothing and be unrelated to when someone is laughing. My son uses it all the time and it leaves me saying “huh?”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. tigerlilly says:

    So true. My son always knows when a text is from me. Mainly because I spell everything out. How droll and boring is that? Wow, I had to control myself to exclude at least three exclamation points.

    Like

  8. I have had to consciously work to temper my robot-like emails with a little humanity. (Contracts people aren’t people people, you know? At least, that’s what I’ve heard from every interviewer!) Using an exclamation point in a work email felt just short of sinning the first time I did it; now, a few years later, I do a pre-send check to ensure there’s no more than one exclamation point. It’s hard to find and keep that balance in this always-changing world.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. zorbear says:

    LOL!!!!! You old people make me laugh — a lot!!!!!!!!!!
    😛

    Like

  10. Blogdramedy says:

    In my business, I refer to exclamation points as screamers.
    Which is so appropriate to this post.

    *grin*

    If “grin” is acceptable. Otherwise [insert blank space…but with feeling]

    Like

  11. Nurse Kelly says:

    I stand guilty of smiley facing everything. It’s so bad, that those who know me personally believe if I don’t include that little happy face, I must be in a bad mood or pissed off. So now I am relegated to using it as a natural part of my online communication and honestly don’t know how to peel the darn thing off my back once and for all. Help me, Peg!!!!!!!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • pegoleg says:

      I guess having a smiley on your back isn’t as bad as having a monkey on your back. But maybe you can start slow. Count the ex-points and smileys like Deb does, above, and you can wean yourself (and your friends) off of them gradually.

      I just hope you don’t suffer too much with the Smiley DTs that some junkies experience.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. I have to resort to using only emoticons whenever I text my husband because I’m blind as a bat even with my glasses on, and that damned autocorrect drives me batty! Yes!!! COTI (crying on the inside)

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Right on! Exclamation points are used way too much!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. MELewis says:

    I’m also an tall-period addict and working on it. But I do believe these little punctuation points and symbols provide some of the missing context and tone of voice you so regret – or at least attempt to stand in for them. We can’t turn back the clock so guess we better get used to ’em – or think of some other way to add feeling to our typing. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Like

  15. susielindau says:

    I love exclamation points!!!! They show my enthusiastic response perfectly. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Like

  16. Dana says:

    🙂 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like

  17. franhunne4u says:

    I lately used three exlamation marks in a comment on the Guardian website – and I apologized for that. You do not get away with modern stuff like this on a good old, british traditional site. The more so since The Brits are not well known for exclaiming.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Dear Ms. Peg:
    Well done!!!!!!!

    Like

  19. Shannon says:

    People tend to want to type how they TALK. That is, if exuberance would be in the spoken tone, then exclamation points are warranted. But what of my friend who will text me a conversation with every sentence ending in a tall period? Wouldn’t that conversation be better absorbed over a glass of wine on the back porch while the kids destroy the house anyway? Can’t it wait a/k/a/ does it need to be texted?

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Good point. How about I bring a bottle of wine over to your porch and we’ll discuss this friend? Except not the bottle I just opened. I bought it because it made an impression the last time I got it. Apparently I forgot it was a negative impression.

      Like

      • Shannon says:

        I’m failing to see how either an opened or un-opened bottle of wine can make a negative impression (unless you’re a recovering alcoholic). Never mind. Bring it anyway.

        If you want to know how Emoji’s came to be, watch this historical account from ‘the young people’ who developed them, as shared by my son. (I didn’t want to embed and offend ‘the old people.’) Of course, I’m typing this response on an old computer (i.e. a screen and keyboard) so cannot input an appropriate Emoji *here.* Just imagine one, whichever one makes you think that I’m both excited to learn ‘young people’ stuff and happy to share in someone else’s bottle of wine at the same time. Cheers! (There. I did it.)

        Liked by 1 person

  20. I totally agree. I’ve been known to use xx as full stops. A habit I started when I first started texting at age 19 and now at 35 still do x

    Like

  21. I do tend to overuse exclamation points, but I’m aware of it, and after typing an email or text or whatever that contains them, I check it over to see if any can safely be removed. I also do like to use the occasional emoticon, for clarification of humour, or just so that everyone can tell what a fun and young outlook I have on life…right? I have a fun and young outlook right Peg? Oh wait, I see what’s going wrong here……………… 🙂 😉 😆 😕 😉 😕 🙂 ……………there, now everyone can tell what a fun and young outlook I have…right?….right?….right?

    Liked by 1 person

  22. percetakanexpres says:

    Great post
    If you deign to look at my blog, how do you think to my blog

    thanks

    Like

  23. I have taken a stand against ‘lol’… I don’t know what else I can do… except use a lot of these triple period things… what are they called again?… ellipses?

    Like

  24. Peg, you are so me. I love your posts. I will try to contain my enthusiasm for your writing.

    Like

  25. Oh man. Although I am not one of those “young people”, I am so guilty of this. A sentence without the aid of these exclamations looks so…empty. So alone. So naked. So forgotten. So sad. I am glad you resolved your issue with your relative, phew!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 🙂 xo 😉 ;( @#%^&*()__

    Liked by 1 person

  26. johnberk says:

    I don’t know what to say. It is somehow easier to use a lot of emoticons. And exclamation marks. But I appreciate reading a text that does not contain them and is written as clearly as possible. Especially when I read about my passions – food critics and sommeliers, for example. I still believe in a beauty of formal language, yet it is exhausting to use it all the time. Modern language is developing so fast we can almost grasp the differences between each generation. We don’t understand the language of our kids, but our parents feel the same about us.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Instead of exclamation points, a guy at my office used to type his emails IN ALL CAPS. ALL THE TIME.
    Finally someone got up the courage to ask why he was e-mail shouting at us.
    He wrote back, “SHOUTING? I’M NOT SHOUTING. I JUST DON’T HAVE TIME TO THINK ABOUT CAPITALIZATION.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • pegoleg says:

      So many people don’t understand that sub-message of all caps and how annoying it is. But he has a good point. IF you took typing class in school you can’t NOT capitalize, but if you didn’t, it’s time-consuming.

      Liked by 1 person

  28. I simply despise text talk. It gives me a headache.

    Like

  29. lexiemom says:

    OMG!!!!!! 😆 That’s like so tots for real, right????!!!! Lol!!!!! Roflmao!!!!, 🐐😂🐶🐶🐣😀🐈🐩

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Whoa…that’s an impressive lineup of doohickeys you’ve got there. All I can figure out is the smiley and the winky face – must be this old computer.

      Like

  30. We are going back to cave painting style communications? Now that’s a rocky thought.

    Like

  31. I admit that I’ve taken to writing things like LMAOROTF (laughing my ass off rolling on the floor) on Facebook. I don’t text many of those shortcuts except for LOL. And a favorite of mine is indicating sarcasm by *using these* because sarcasm often doesn’t translate well in text. One thing I’ve wondered about is how the spelling of words changes over time. With people texting things like nite instead of night, I wonder how long until what’s considered the proper spelling will change, or even matter anymore.

    Like

  32. Great point. I am calling myself out on this one. Truth be told, I hide behind my grammatical and punctuation errors by using the frivolous and unnecessary. It’s a coping mechanism. Oddly, I’m not concerned by the excessive usage by others. However, if I could reach thru my monitor, autocorrect would be banished back into the fire pit of Hades.

    Like

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