We’ve all seen these types of posts/emails/texts. Excessive exclamation points seems to be more and more common. I am not the type of person who normally complains about proper grammar and punctuation. Language changes with time. The only reasonable definition of correctness is simply “Is it widely accepted?” If enough people do it, it will become accepted. Language changes to allow people to communicate better.
What I don’t like are changes where communication becomes less meaningful. If you put three exclamation points for, “I love pizza”, how many should you put for, “I won the Nobel prize”? The meaning of this punctuation mark is being lost.
We keep having to add more and more exclamation points to convey emotion. I’ll call this Exclamation Inflation©. (It’s now copyrighted. If you use it, please send me a dollar).
The core problem is that we are treating exclamation points like they are on a linear scale: two exclamation points is twice as much excitement as one. This won’t work. There are orders of magnitudes of difference between the significance of some events.
Think of other scales that have to measure huge ranges. A 5.0 on the Richter scale is 10 times larger than a 4.0, because the size of earthquakes can vary so much. If the Richter scale were linear, the top value would be ten billion.
So I propose that we treat each exclamation point as a ten-fold increase. You would use one mark for ordinary exclamations. If you think in terms of how often the thing you’re exclaiming might happen, then one exclamation point would be for things that happen every month or so. Two for things that could happen yearly. Three for once in a decade events. Four for once in a lifetime events. Five for once in all of history.
To make it clearer, here are some examples in various categories.
- I got an A on the test!
- I got the job!!
- We’re having a baby!!!
- I won an Academy Award!!!!
- News media misunderstands and misinterprets scientific study!
- New study shows that eating chocolate makes you skinny!!
- News media understands and correctly interprets scientific study!!!
- Theory of Everything proven!!!!!
- We’re having fried chicken at the fellowship meeting!
- Easter drama cancelled due to bathrobe shortage!!
- The pastor finally got saved!!!
- The Second Coming is happening right now!!!!!
Of course, most people will simply ignore this and some will think that their child’s birthday party warrants as many exclamation points as the moon landing. So we have the matter of enforcement.
Since virtually all writing is electronic now, the government can monitor exclamation point use. Each citizen would be allocated a certain number per time period. Say 5 per week. You would be taxed for each exclamation point that you use over the limit. Like the scale, the tax would grow exponentially, but by a factor of two, not ten. The first excess exclamation is a $1 fine. The next $2. At this rate, the tenth is $1,024 and the twentieth is over a million dollars.
We would, of course, imprison those who could not pay but insist on excessive exclamation.
It’s my 416th day in prison!! We’re having gruel again!!!!!