The Exclamation Point – a discussion and guide to usage

I’ve always been a bit exuberant.  I just have so much to say, and there never seems to be enough time or space to say it all.  I talk quickly, and I tend to be parenthetical.  I write quickly, and I am tangential.  I have this horror of being misunderstood, and I somehow think that tangents and parenthetical thoughts will help me to communicate exactly what I mean (will provide the context of my thoughts) in the least amount of time (if I’m speaking) or the fewest number of words (if I’m writing).  In my early school years, my teachers always had the same thing to say: “Kelly, you write well and with great enthusiasm, but you must limit the number of parenthetical references you include.”  When writing, I have to constantly battle my impulse to include a parenthetical thought (or two) in every damn sentence.  So if, while you read my blog, you think that there are perhaps a few too many tangents or parenthetical comments, you have no idea what I’m capable of bringing to the party.  This is me being restrained.

One could not be as exuberant as I without occasionally overusing that strange punctuation mark: the exclamation point.  I used to wonder why it even exists if there are such stringent rules limiting its use.  To me, the exclamation point (and all of the rules that attend/restrict it) is rather like a wooden spoon and a giant pot that one would hand to a toddler.  They’re obviously meant to be used as instruments of joy, to be banged upon in an explosion of obnoxious, creative energy, but the adults never like it when the children are so unconstrained, do they?  Instead that pot and spoon just sit there, taunting the child with their unusable potential.  That’s how I feel about exclamation points.  As a serious adult, I’m not supposed to use them, but, oh, how I want to!

Well… I don’t think anyone could confuse me with a serious adult.  I self-identify with toddlers…

Anyway, for all my enthusiasm for the dear exclamation point, I do think it’s possible to use it in ridiculous ways, and it really annoys me when my favorite punctuation mark is so misused.  To be honest, the main reason I haven’t bothered to read the 50 Shades of Grey series is that several book review blogs mentioned the author’s outrageous exclamation point use.  Ana entered the elevator and pushed the button for the fourth floor!   Sebastian was so angry!  (not actual quotes from the book(s).)

So I decided to write a quirky little guide to the exclamation point, and I’d love to hear/read feedback on whether I’m right or cracked in the head (could be both, honestly).

The Exclamation Point – A Guide to Usage

Correct usage:  to punctuate an exclamation, to denote enthusiasm, to provide commentary on questionable behavior, to convey silliness, to creep people out with inappropriate enthusiasm (workplace use).

Incorrect usage: to punctuate statements that are neither enthusiastic, ironic, nor silly.

Examples of Proper Usage

Look out!  There’s a bear coming right for you!
I can’t wait for dinner tonight; I’m going to eat a steak the size of my head!
While I was out on my walk last night, I saw a dude who was out jogging wearing nothing but his running shoes and a sweater (because it’s cold)… !!?!!
And then they fell in a ditch and died!
Thanks for responding so quickly and helping to coordinate this visit!!

Examples of Improper Usage

Jonathan was wearing jeans! (exception: if it’s completely bizarre that Jonathan would wear jeans, that exclamation point could justly indicate the writer’s surprise at encountering denim in connection with Jonathan.)
Betty made a stop on the way home to get some coffee. She added two sugar packets and some cream! Armed with her coffee, she headed home and planned to spend the evening watching Dancing with the Stars.
I went to a funeral yesterday! (This one is just a socially unacceptable usage… we aren’t supposed to be excited about death and its various celebrations.)

Exception

An exclamation point is an appropriate terminal mark to any sentence that references bacon (e.g. I ordered a BLT! or That macaroni and cheese has bacon in it!).  Bacon is always a reason to celebrate(!).

What is analysis anyway?

Right now, I am reading Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolis, The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae by Stephanie Laurens, and The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal.  As I have time, I’ll post about these books and any others I pick up.  I am not certain that I will finish Charterhouse.  120 pages in, I still hate all the characters, and I don’t really care what happens to them.  I am reading Elizabeth and Hazel for a book club at work, and I am really enjoying it.  Glencrae is pure fun–not much to analyze about it, per se, but self-analysis is possible regardless of the quality of the stimulus–but fluffy books of its ilk give me blessed relief from my ever-churning thoughts.

There are a lot of very good book review blogs out there, but reviews aren’t precisely what I’m going for with this blog.  My starting perspective is that everything that we experience in our lives changes us in some often ineffable way so that, every day we have the opportunity to get to know ourselves, to incorporate these changes and figure out where they leave us.  I have this horror of waking up one morning, looking in the mirror, and seeing a stranger.  It is so easy to allow habit and mental laziness to work their magic on our lives, to slip into mental somnolence until we no longer know our own minds.  It is easy to hide things from ourselves, to fool ourselves into believing that we are better than we are.  I am absolutely terrified by the very real possibility that I could, one day, be a stranger to myself.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m quite neurotic!

Analysis, then, is my means of making sure that I never get away from myself.  And, since I spend an awful lot of time reading every day, a good deal of my analysis is directed at what I’m reading: what I think about it, how it changes or challenges my beliefs, how it might be changing me.  So this isn’t really a review blog, although I will doubtless give my opinion of what I’m reading.  What I am interested in is having a record of my thoughts and, if possible, entering into a dialogue with others about those thoughts so that I can move forward with the ones that make sense and have a certain universal (ish) applicability and reject those thoughts that don’t.

Abrupt subject change: I made a wonderful and dangerous discovery a few months ago at work: there is an automatic espresso machine on campus that doles out free custom-made cappuccinos (or lattes or americanos) all day long.  In addition to the three cups of brewed coffee that I had this morning, I have had three of those lovely cappuccinos, the last of them with an added shot.  It is wonderful to have no real limit on the amount of caffeine I consume, now that I am no longer pregnant or nursing.