Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt
“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ancient Romans used all capital letters, no spaces and no punctuation. Can you imagine that? For a civilization that gave us concrete, the book and the calendar system we still use today, you’d think they would have thrown in a period at the end of a sentence every once in a while.
Legend has it that the exclamation point has its origins in the Middle Ages. At the end of a sentence in which a medieval copyist wanted to indicate or emphasize joy, he would write the Latin word “io,” which means “joy.” Over time, the “i” moved above the “o” and the “o” became small enough to become a point, evolving into the exclamation point we know and love today.
There’s an episode of “Seinfeld” where Elaine breaks up with her boyfriend after he doesn’t use an exclamation point when writing down a phone message for her. A Plenty of Fish Conversation Nation 2018 survey found that “58 percent of singles say bad grammar is a bigger turn off than bad sex.” Especially in an age where texting and messaging account for much of the communication between potential love matches, grammar and punctuation play a significant role in your love life.
So, what’s my point, already? Should we use exclamation points or should we practice total exclamatory abstinence, as F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested? According to the AP Stylebook, we should “avoid overuse of exclamation points. Use to express a high degree of surprise, incredulity or other strong emotion.”
Here’s my point on exclamation points: Don’t go crazy with them. In the same way that bolding an entire section of text, therefore, makes nothing important, dropping in exclamation points all willy-nilly makes you look like a person who has had a few too many espressos. Never use more than one exclamation point at the end of a sentence; it’s just unnecessary. Doing so takes your rhetoric to DEFCON 1 and makes the reader think there’s a giant asteroid hurtling toward Earth.
I suggest discussing exclamation point usage early on in a relationship so that you can weed out someone whose punctuation habits are compatible with yours.