Confessions of an exclamation mark user


Exclamation mark with an ink dotFirst I had to admit it to myself. And now, I feel, it’s time to admit it to the world.

I’m one of those people I used to sneer at. One of those people I couldn’t even believe I could one day become.

I’m … a person who uses exclamation marks all the time.

I have an excuse. There’s always, I know, an excuse.

About a year ago, I left New Jersey’s largest daily newspaper, The Star-Ledger, and started this blog. I quickly figured out that the survival of the site was going to depend on my ability to attract lots of people to it. And the most effective way to do that was through social media.

I had to seem enthusiastic about everything I was posting. I was, of course, enthusiastic about it, or I wouldn’t be posting it in the first place. But I had to leave no doubt to someone surfing the web, and in danger of clicking on something else.

After 25 years at The Star-Ledger, I had come to loathe the exclamation mark. Dour copy editors had drilled it into me: Use exclamation marks only when absolutely necessary. And it’s never absolutely necessary. I wouldn’t even try to sneak one into an article. It wasn’t going to make print anyway.

But, editing myself now, I started dabbling in exclamation marks, especially in those little introductory blurbs for links posted on Facebook. I’d try one out every once in a while, when I had a hot piece of news or landed a big interview. I didn’t see any harm in it. And it was helping to draw people to my site. Or, at least, that’s what I told myself.

But  —  and here’s the shameful part  —  I was starting to like it. That little jolt of excitement when I hit the exclamation mark key and then posted my comment. Look, here’s something really important! I’m excited just thinking about it! Aren’t you, too!

So I started using exclamation marks more and more. I even started to feel something was lacking if I posted to Facebook without one. Sometimes there were  —  God help me  —  two. Or even more.

And when someone wrote something complimentary about me, or something I wrote, I started to reply “thanks!” If it was just “thanks,” it felt like I wasn’t really expressing gratitude, but just fulfilling some kind of social obligation. Like my mother was telling me I had to be polite, and so I was mumbling the words out. But “Thanks!” — there’s no way that could be mistaken.

The exclamation mark, I know, is losing its meaning, in my own writing and in the world at large. It’s like everyone has turned into Shania Twain, who famously used 10 exclamation marks in the 19 song titles of her 2002 album, Up!

I made fun of her for that, at the time. But if I did that now I would only be reminded, painfully, of my own lapses.

I know I’m not alone. Look around social media, and you’ll see lots of exclamation mark abuse. But at least I’ve admitted I’m part of the problem. And now that I’ve admitted it, I feel so much better!


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