January 13, 2010

You're Excited. I Get It.

I am an avid fan of the English language, and as such, I often wonder, when did we lose faith in her, anyway? Last time I checked, there was a myriad of words to replace the often overused and misplaced exclamation point. The only time an exclamation point is warranted is when the statement is an actual exclamation, like Look! Or, Wow! Or, Congratulations! And, as Strunk and White state, “Do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using a mark of exclamation.” Instead, simply state what you want to say, without adding unnecessary, obnoxious punctuation marks.

It seems to me that we could easily express our excitement for something by saying that we’re, well, excited. Or, if we doubt that saying we’re excited will convey the fact that we are excited, then why not add a more pizzazz-y word, like, pizzazz?

One of my best friends, and fellow English language fan, is also a fan of exclamation points, smiley faces, and other such “cheery” expressions and emoticons. (We can refer to her as “Jane”). Jane and I met several years ago when we were both in college, in an honors English class. We quickly bonded over our love for Shakespeare, Italy, Aphra Behn and English. Unfortunately for me, I soon discovered that Jane is a huge fan of exclamation points. In fact, her text messages often look like this, “I miss you! I can’t wait to see you! I’m so excited you’re coming up this weekend :)” When it comes to the men she’s attracted to, Jane does not spare any exclamation points. In fact, when sending texts to hot men, she often spends about ten minutes contemplating where to strategically place these unnecessary offenders.

Once, nearly a year ago, we were on our way home to her apartment from Albertson’s when she almost took out an entire row of cars in the parking lot; she was trying to figure out if she had typed enough exclamation points in a message she wanted to send to her latest crush. As she handed me her phone and asked, “Do you think that’s enough?” she almost smacked the first car. And then she asked, “Will he think I’m happy to see him?” There went car number two (almost). The text read: “Hi! Are you back in town?! We should hang out tonight! I’m excited to see you!”

By now she had made a sharp right turn and tried to park her car so she could focus. In so doing, she nearly swiped a third car. For the next twenty five minutes, we occupied three parking spots while she deliberated the effectiveness of this text. As we sat in the parking lot of Albertson’s, and as she read several variations of her text message aloud, I was trying to process how the same person who Aced all of her classes was the same person who almost knocked out a row of cars because she could not decide if her text message was cheery enough. I wondered why she couldn’t just send him a text telling him that she missed him and wanted to spend time with him, without all the exclamation points and emoticons. I sat there silently, nodding my head each time she asked, “Are you sure this is good enough? I mean, I want him to know I’m excited to see him, but I don’t want him to know I spent all this time trying to decide on what to text him.” I never said anything about how stupid exclamation points are, because I did not want to hurt her feelings.

Jane finally sent the text. We sat in her car for a few minutes and waited for him to respond. When several more minutes went by and he still had not responded, she looked at me and said, “That’s so weird. I put exclamation points and smiley faces, and everything.”

As I looked into her big blue eyes, framed by her wavy blonde hair, I still could not tell her. I wondered how someone who loves English so much, needed to sound like a sixteen year old girl when sending messages to friends and men who were more than friends. I also thought about how different our text messages look—even when we are texting each other. For example, when sending texts of the same sentiment, whether to my friends or lovers, they often look like this:
“Can’t wait to see you. Miss you, too. Will call you later.”
No exclamation points. No happy faces. Just good ol’ letters and periods.

So, why can’t we trust the English language to correctly convey what we want to say without adding misplaced punctuation marks and unnecessary emoticons? It may just be that I was an English major—although I doubt I stand alone here—but, I firmly believe that we can all express our feelings simply with words; no need for anything else.

Enjoy this clip from Seinfeld.


  1. Omg!I loved your blog! It was so awesome! You make me laugh so much!! hahaha :) I can't wait to read your next one! :D lmao!

  2. This is a great post. As a writer and editor, I can often be found deleting exclamation points (and bolding, underlining, italics, and paranthetical inserts like this one) as people have somehow decided that the tone of their work cannot be conveyed simply through text. I do think exclamation points are occasionally helpful, however. To read "She won the prize." is something different than reading "She won the prize!" Without the exclamation point, the excitement, not to mention the reading voice in your head, might not come through correctly. In conversational mediums, such as texting, the use of exclamation points doesn't bother me at all, since we sound more animated when we converse than we were are composing formal prose. Though I'd still say your friend went overboad!

  3. Agreed. Thank you for posting this. Also, I hope you enjoyed the video. Stay tuned for more blogs.

  4. Jehan,

    Haha! That is hilarious. And precisely my point.