In 1986 Hamilton, Ohio, changed its name to Hamilton! Ohio. Aside from its total weirdness (yes, Hamiltonians, while no doubt you’re lovely people, it is weird and it screws up comma placement and according to reports it cost $35,000 of taxpayers’ money to redo the city stationery), the exclamation point brings up a sore subject with lots of people – that is, exclamation points themselves. You’re either an exclamation point-type person or you’re not. And, it seems, like the divide between those who support Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, apparently the twain shall never meet. One of my favorite blogs, The Pirate Geek, recently referred to exclamation points as “louche and lazy.” Take that, Hamilton.
But exclamation points have a long and proud history and I’m on their side. Really! I am! They’ve been around since the 15th century and originally were meant as a “mark of admiration.” The symbol itself is believed to originate from the Latin word io, an exclamation of joy, and, in fact, may be an altered combination of those two letters. For every embarrassing Love Smart! by Dr. Phil there’s an incredible O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. And let’s not forget Shakespeare: “A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!” Or James Joyce: “God, these Bloody English!” Or Jane Austen: “But you have such a generous spirit!" And I could go on.
The point about exclamation points is that they can convey a robust spirit or excitement. Used sparingly, they’re an effective way to express a variety of feelings, meanings, and attitudes.
You get a lot of bang for your buck. But it’s their overuse -- which like anything else that’s really good only when really rare -- that renders them useless. So go ahead, free yourself to use an exclamation point once in a while. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice says, “ever so many lessons to learn!” And with today’s post? One less. Hurrah!Note: In the original version of this post I misspelled "stationery" (I wrote "stationary"), so my thanks to Nicole, a reader from Australia, for pointing it out. Further proof that everyone needs an editor.