(Pixabay.com)

COLUMN: Look! It’s an exclamation point!

We’re living in a time when everything has become A Big Deal!

Anyone who has worked with me here at the Summerland Review, and anyone who has been at a writing workshop with me, will know how much I loathe the exclamation point.

This form of punctuation was started with good intentions, as a tool to use occasionally for added emphasis.

But today, the exclamation point is not an occasional flourish. It pops up everywhere.

And when writers use multiple exclamation points, the result looks quite messy.

Consider the following sign: “WARNING!!! All unattended laundry will be discarded immediately!!! No questions asked!!!!!!!”

Sentences like these look like fields overgrown with weeds. I want to find a literary lawn mower and clean up the landscape.

The person who wrote the sign is doing the equivalent of yelling in print.

Besides, the sign is about unattended laundry. It’s hardly a crisis.

If a sign about laundry calls for sentences with three or seven exclamation points, what happens when there’s something much more urgent?

Would news about the start of a war require 10 or more exclamation points? Would a single exclamation point mean the war was just a minor skirmish or a barroom brawl?

While multiple exclamation points show up from time to time, the single exclamation point is far more common. And at times, it is used instead of a period to end a sentence.

It wasn’t always like this.

Years ago, before computers had been invented, manual typewriters didn’t have an exclamation point. To create this symbol, one had to type a period, hit the backspace, then shift and type the number eight to get an apostrophe.

That’s four steps to create one mark. Adding multiple exclamation points for emphasis took a lot of effort. Writers had to decide whether the sentence merited this much work.

Today, on my computer keyboard, it’s easy to put an exclamation point into a text document.

READ ALSO: COLUMN: Watching my language as English changes

READ ALSO: COLUMN: Choosing a face to show the world

All I have to do is hit the shift and type the 1. That’s the same amount of effort as typing a capital letter. For multiple exclamation points, I just keep holding down the shift key while typing the 1.

It’s almost effortless.

Because it’s so easy to use, this form of punctuation shows up far more frequently than in the past.

Does it matter someone uses an exclamation point at the end of each sentence or even a dozen exclamation points after an important statement? Isn’t this just a matter of personal style?

If exclamation points were simply a step in the evolution of punctuation, I wouldn’t be too concerned.

But this punctuation mark is also affecting the way we think and how we communicate with each other.

We’re living in a time when everything has become a big deal.

Or, more accurately, we’re living in a time when everything has become A Big Deal!

A small line item in a large government budget becomes A Colossal Waste of Taxpayer Dollars!

Criticism of a book or an art exhibit becomes A Tyrannical Assault on Freedom of Speech!

Almost anything can quickly become A Crisis Of Mammoth Proportions!

The problem isn’t the use or misuse of the exclamation point — even though it’s a form of punctuation I despise.

Instead, exclamation point abuse should be seen as the symptom of something more serious.

Not everything is worthy of an exclamation point. Not everything qualifies as a big problem.

Sometimes the line item in the budget is a minor issue, representing a few hundredths of a percent of the total.

Sometimes the criticism of a book or an art exhibit is a response to a badly created work, not the artist’s message.

Not everything deserves an urgent and immediate response. It’s okay to end with a period.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

To report a typo, email:
news@summerlandreview.com
.



news@summerlandreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19: Diabetes Canada donation bins becoming garbage dumps amid pandemic

Diabetes Canada has asked residents to stop overflowing bins with donations and garbage

Summerland to offer mental health webinar

Event will examine ways of coping during COVID-19 pandemic

Okanagan College students receive emergency funding

Funding is available to domestic and Indigenous students from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training

Giants Head Grind postponed

Uphill race in Summerland will not proceed due to COVID-19 pandemic

Stranded Osoyoos snowmobilers spend night on Mount Baldy

The two men were recused by about 9 a.m. on April 6

Here’s how to talk to people who aren’t taking physical distancing seriously

Approach the conversation with empathy says conflict expert

B.C. clears more acute hospital beds as COVID-19 case growth slows

Province holding about 40% of beds empty for peak still to come

As 500K+ apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind

Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides $2,000 per month

Spike of visitors to Princeton-area stressing grocery supply chain and healthcare teams

‘We are really not set up to have this many people at this time of year.’ Area H Director Bob Coyne

Okanagan tourism continues to suffer following COVID-19 pandemic

The District of Lake Country voted to suspend tourism on March 31

Van crashes into Kamloops home

Police say the driver went into medical distress before the crash

Kelowna RCMP seizes guns, illicit drugs following disturbance

RCMP seized three firearms and a variety of suspected illicit and prescription drugs

Salmon Arm Silverbacks remember Humboldt Broncos on anniversary of fatal crash

Sixteen people killed, 13 injured after semi collided with team bus on April 6, 2018

Most Read