Nov 26, 2018

Geoff Nunberg Is Not Concerned About Exclamation Points

From The Houston Chronicle

Why Are Exclamation Points Everywhere?!

By Jennifer Latson

If you really want to demonstrate your dislike for someone, end a sentence with a period.

"Thanks so much." "That's great." "Happy birthday."

As a line in an email, a text or a Facebook comment, any of these will effectively convey your contempt and devastate the recipient. By now, we all know that if you actually mean it, you'll use an exclamation point — or several...

How did the exclamation point come to dominate our correspondence? It started with a cultural shift in the way we communicate, linguists say. As written communication — via email, text, instant messaging and social media — came to replace many of our in-person conversations, we lost a vital element of expression. Words, after all, are only part of communication: tone is equally crucial, and notoriously difficult to convey in writing. In person, you can say "thank you" sarcastically with a sneer, or genuinely with a smile. In writing, your options are more limited...

Not everyone is worried. Geoff Nunberg — a linguist at UC Berkeley's School of Information and the author of "Ascent of the A-Word," along with several other books about language — doubts that exclamation point inflation will bring on World War III.

"I'll be alarmed if I see multiple exclamation points starting to bristle in the pages of the New Yorker or the New York Times," he says, "but I find it hard to get indignant when they pop up in texts, tweets or informal email exchanges, which are really just the written versions of communications that used to take place orally."


Last updated:

December 3, 2018