Sunday, April 25, 2010

On the Exclamation Mark

Before the mid seventeenth century the exclamation mark was known as the "mark of admiration." In this case, admiration refers to a sense of wonderment rather than some sort of feeling of approval. According to one theory, the exclamation mark came from the Latin word for joy,
io, written with the I above the o. Thus, the exclamation mark was used to mark a passage that filled the writer with a sense of wonderment. Dating back to the fifteenth century, this mark is a relatively new invention.

This blog post was inspired by one of my pet peeves - the abuse of the exclamation mark. In my opinion the exclamation mark is a special mark which should only be used sparingly so that its expressive power is never lost. As printers of the past used the exclamation mark in order to delineate Scriptural passages of particular power, so should contemporary writers use the exclamation mark sparingly. Yes, this is probably a ridiculous request as the exclamation mark has come to represent volume and powerful emotion. Still, perhaps writing would improve if emotion was injected into the sentence itself rather than relying on the much-abused exclamation mark.

This is not my main problem with the modern use of the exclamation mark. No, my main problem involves the completely unnecessary use of multiple exclamation marks at the end of sentence. Thus, rather than typing something like "I'm happy!" the writer types "I'm happy!!!!!!

Actually, a bigger pet peeve of mine is the word "peeve" itself. Somehow this particular combination of phonetic sounds creates a word which is the audible equivalent of warm garbage. And here's something else that doesn't make sense: the phrase pet peeve itself. When I think of the word pet, I usually think of a creature, such as a fish or a dog, that is cared for and cherished by its owner. In fact, even as a modifier, the word pet implies that it's something favoured. If I have a pet peeve, is it a cherished peeve that I nurture?

"Hey, what's that ugly looking thing that smells like a diaper full of boiled cabbage on your leash there?"

"Oh that? That's my pet peeve."

"Oh nice, what kind of peeve is it?"

"It's an exclamation mark peeve."

"Oh, those are rare, aren't they?"

"Yes, not too many people have them."

"May I indulge it?"

"Well, I'd prefer that you didn . . ."


"Oh, now you've done it."

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