Sunday, July 31, 2016

not to put too fine a point on it

Remember that girl in your fourth-grade class who dotted her "i"s with little bulbous hearts? Do you ever wonder if, as an adult, she still does that? Perhaps she is now a doctor with a family practice. Do you think she's writing prescriptions for Amoxicillin and capping those three "i"s with a plump, little heart floating above that vertical stroke and placed at a jaunty angle? I doubt it. I'll bet she's not using another bit of punctuation from her youth — the exclamation point. In order to show the urgency of the prescription, I'm sure she is informing her patient that it must be filled upon leaving the office and an immediate dose is of the utmost importance. I'd be willing to bet that nowhere on that prescription does a single exclamation point appear. Nowhere.

Y'know why? Because exclamation points are silly and childish and have no place in the adult world, much like a heart-shaped tittle (the technical term for the dot on the "i").

Look, I'm aware of the old adage: "Everything in moderation." I don't expect the exclamation point to totally disappear. People will continue to employ it at the end of a personal sentiment when signing a birthday card ("Best wishes, Mom!") and on banners brought to a baseball game ("Hit it here!"). But. please, can we limit its usage on every single piece of correspondence, especially those of a business or professional nature? And, if you do feel compelled to include an exclamation point in your communications, please, please, limit it to one. There is nothing more infuriating than seeing a pert little squadron of fifteen exclamation points following the eight letters that comprise the words "thank you." One can just as easily convey the gravity of an idea or the sincerity of a feeling with some carefully chosen words rather than the repeated staccato of dots with dashes balanced precariously over them.

Exclamation points should be treated like a box of Cocoa Puffs. Sure, they were great and plentiful when you were six. But, now as an adult, perhaps a wiser choice would be more beneficial. It's okay once in a while, but overuse could have detrimental results.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said: "An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke." And he knew a lot more about writing than you do.


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