Monday, January 21, 2008

Exclamation Points!!!

Road sign of a car speeding toward an exclamation pointSince beginning this blog, I have noticed my tendency to use more exclamation points than I'm comfortable with. Some are used sarcastically, so I guess those are okay. But others, I'm not so sure about.

I struggle with this while writing email at work as well. There are times where I type an EP, and then decide to take it out, even though it leaves the sentiment I'm expressing feeling a little flat, or less enthusiastic than I intended. But the look of all those EPs... it makes me feel as if I'm trapped in a room full of thirteen-year-olds.

Jacob Rubin at Slate had some thoughts on this topic, after noticing his tendency to overuse EPs in his text messages to friends. He cited David Shipley and Will Schwalbe's book Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home, which points out the need for things like EPs in emails because the usual cues of emotion are lacking in the medium. Email, they write, has a "dulling quality that almost necessitates kicking everything up a notch just to bring it to where it would normally be."

Rubin goes on to say that it's not so much that email is inherently flat, but that its pingpong-like nature undermines its intrinsic worth. It's too easy to write and send, essentially. He quips: "Like 24-hour cable newscasters, we compensate for the unworthiness of our meanings by being emphatic!"

And, of course, when everything is emphasized, nothing is emphasized. It makes me think of the effect of drugs like Ecstasy, which wear out the brain's natural emotions.

The alternative is to write words that are compelling in the first place, I suppose, so the EPs aren't needed. So that's my new challenge: to write well, and be on the lookout for vestigial exclamation points, and ready with my delete button to cut them out.

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