The Wall Street Journal had an article several years ago about the widening gap between the advice given by the “older” generation and the type of advice sought by the “younger” generation!
The reporter, Jeffrey Zaslow, told the following personal story:
I am 51, and my 21-year-old daughter, Jordan, recently asked me to review a thank-you email she wrote to an executive in his early 30s who had helped her with job-search suggestions. Jordan’s email hit the right notes. My only advice was to cut two of her three exclamation marks. I gave her a tip I once received from an old friend about writing: “Assume you’ve been given one exclamation point in your life. Use it wisely.” Jordan took my advice, made the cuts and sent her email. The young executive sent four sentences in reply, three of which ended in exclamation marks. That’s when my daughter knew it was a mistake to listen to me. Because younger people communicate through short bursts of text, she said, “We need to convey a tone that expresses enthusiasm. If we don’t use exclamation marks, we run the risk of recipients wondering whether we’re unfriendly or uninterested.”
I’ve often thought about that advice about exclamation points over the years! Personally, I see no problem with using exclamation points, and have used them frequently over the years in my emails, and more recently in my tweets, Facebook posts, and my blog!
(great Seinfeld clip at end)
What brought the matter to my attention was an article this past week by Anna Orso in the Philadelphia Inquirer: Assault by exclamation point!! Why a revolt is brewing against overused punctuation.
Here’s what some people had to say about using exclamation point:
- FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver tweeted: “There really needs to be a semi exclamation point for when a period conveys too little enthusiasm in a work-related email but using the full exclamation point makes you seem like a psychopath.”
- Ken Jennings, the Twitter star best known for killing it on Jeopardy! for six months, wrote: “We are the generation that devalued the exclamation point”
- Sali A. Tagliamonte, a professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto: “It’s not really appropriate. It’s kind of bleeding into communication where we have this jocular way of interacting.” She also notes that overusing exclamation points or ellipses only causes those devices to lose impact over time. (Ellipses are a personal favorite of mine…)!
- Annie Heckenberger, vice president group creative director at Digitas Health in Center City, said she uses exclamation points in work emails to convey excitement to younger creatives!
- Judith Kallos, an email etiquette expert known as “Miss eM@nners,” said when it comes to professional emails, one exclamation point is sufficient!! And even if someone sends an email with too many exclamation points, smiley faces or the like, Kallos said the recipient isn’t bound to reply with the same level of perceived enthusiasm!
- Aimee Cicero, a 38-year-old public relations events manager at the Brownstein Group, admitted she overuses exclamation points from time-to-time in work-related emails but only with people she knows. “I am an animated, expressive person in general. Everybody wants to have their personality come across in their communications.“
So there are definitely mixed feelings out there about the appropriate use of exclamation points!
And I was searching for a picture to go with this blog, I came across this article: After Years Of Restraint, A Linguist Says ‘Yes!’ To The Exclamation Point. The author is Geoff Nunberg, a linguist who teaches at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley!
Here were some highlights from the article:
- The exclamation point gets no love at all! Apple computer forbids its distributors to use it in their ads! The British school curriculum penalizes students for using it! There’s a blog called Excessive Exclamation!! dedicated to documenting its misuse!
- It wasn’t always so disreputable! Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne used it freely! But by the late 19th century, self-respecting authors have regarded the wanton use of exclamation points as illiterate and slightly vulgar! F. Scott Fitzgerald said that it was like laughing at your own joke!
- Manual typewriters didn’t even give it a key of its own. You had to type a period, then backspace and then type an apostrophe. (I was not aware of this!)
- But nobody really found its use alarming until the marks began to surface in emails and texts! Exclamation points have become so obligatory in email that it can sound brusque to merely write, “See you then.”
- The research shows that women use them more than men in online communication, chiefly to signal friendliness! That might suggest that some people aren’t using them enough!
At the end, the author notes that he dropped his reservations a while ago, and uses the marks as abundantly as he did when he was 12!
I don’t think I’ve ever purposely stopped using exclamation points! I generally start email conversations with people I do not know that well without using an exclamation point! If however, I get an email that uses exclamation points, I will respond in kind!
So if a linguist at Berkeley is OK with using an exclamation point, then far be it for me to act any differently!
And if that’s not enough, I’ve got Elaine on my side: