“Romeo???? Romeo!!!! Wherefore art thou!!!!!!”
Screwing up the punctuation can turn an amorous inquiry into something your mom might say when you leave your skateboard in the hallway ( “Get your butt down here at once, Romeo Montague!” ). Replace a period with a question mark, say, and a valid question turns into a line from an a Abbott and Costello routine:
- Where is the 2 PM meeting.
- Who is responsible for this.
- What is the next step.
Another assault on the punctuation mark is the misuse of the acme of urgency: the exclamation point. As you know, exclamations are meant to express sharp cries or emotions (Notice how they cleverly encapsulated the word “exclaim” in “exclamation.”). For example:
- It’s a boy!
- My pants are on fire!
- You just drove over my foot, as$h%$&!
Now, which of the sentences below – all retrieved from my inbox – is an exclamation?
- I don’t know, but I believe So-and-so does!
- Just took a look but I don’t see any!
- See you on Monday!
You’re right! I mean, you’re right – none of them is an exclamation. That’s the problem: the exclamation point has become so overused that real exclamations can go unnoticed. Imagine a world in which every mundane statement sounded like a life-changing event:
- It’s a boy!
- I am joyless and devoid of feeling!
You wouldn’t know whether to hand out cigars or kill yourself. Of course, emotions are much easier to understand in person: the raised voice, the sweat, the fire licking under the door. But if you completely misuse an exclamation point when you’re writing, the purpose of your communication is obscured so that you are no longer able to convey emphasis where it’s needed. For example:
Great to see you today! I’m glad things worked out! If you don’t sign the contract by tomorrow, I’ll be fired! Have a great evening!
On top of thinking that I’m a dimwit, Joe may not pay attention to the most important sentence in that email: about him having a great evening. That would be a shame.
Using exclamation points inappropriately isn’t cute or friendly; you don’t seem like a nicer or more cheerful person because you use them indiscriminately. Instead, you diminish the value of what you’re saying and maybe even run the risk of casting yourself in a negative light to your audience. So if you want to close the deal or get that promotion, don’t misuse exclamation points! I mean, don’t use exclamation points.