Ban The Exclamation Point!

Download Dick Weiss's reasoned rant against the exclamation point

Exclamation points are the bane of reasonable and reasoned writing,  Dick Weiss proclaimed this week on the  McGraw Milhaven show. You can listen to his rant by clicking on the link above or read the following screed.  

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Ban the !


By Dick Weiss


Punctuation marks, by and large, are our friends. Commas provide useful pauses. Colons and semicolons provide a useful half measure between a full stop and a coma. Periods happily set off one idea from another. By all means, bring them to the party. They are companionable.


But, please, oh please, leave that miserable boor, the exclamation point, at home.  


I say that emphatically, but without the use of that bit of punctuation at the end of my sentence. It is unnecessary.


Lately, I feel as if I’ve been assaulted by exclamation points. The writers want to convey some sense of excitement. Frequently it surfaces in e-mail.


“Can’t wait to see you!” is a nice thing to say.  But I would feel just as appreciated if you were to say simply that, “It will be nice to see you.”  Or:  “I’m eager to see you.”  And, of course, the visit will be so much more pleasant if you aren’t nearly as over the top as your exclamation point implies.


Actually, getting to see me isn’t nearly so exciting that it deserves an exclamation point. I can say that with some assurance because one of the most exciting things ever to occur didn’t require this form of punctuation. It goes like this:


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.


To further support my thesis, I call not upon the Holy One, but the estimable Theodore M. Bernstein. His 1965 edition of “The Careful Writer’’ addresses well the use of the exclamation point which, he noted, was also known as the “screamer’’ or “astonisher.’’


Bernstein wrote that the exclamation point “is used sparingly because the statements that require it – those containing a strong emotional charge -- are themselves relatively rare and because omitting the mark often produces a kind of understatement that is strong in itself.’’

Bernstein noted, too, that advertising writers litter their copy with exclamation points -- “tricks of salesmanship’’ that “bear no relationship to general writing.’’


Bernstein does note that the exclamation point can be "indispensable to convey proper meaning" as when someone says: "You're a fine spectacle, you miserable creature!''


I will only suggest that if you employ the exclamation point excessively, that as a writer, you may become a fine spectacle yourself.