In Which We Discover We’ve Exceeded Our Maximum Number of Allowed Exclamation Points, and Possibly Colons

December 7th, 2004 · 2 Comments
by Booksquare

We have a dirty secret: sometimes, with close friends, we use shorthand and acronyms and such. We don’t (always) write clear and concise email to certain people. However (and pardon us while we preen), we do work hard to make our professional communication clear and concise. Despite the fact that our effort is often unappreciated. Woe is us.

We’ve disagreed in the past with William Safire (he did not offer us the courtesy of a rebuttal) on the elasticity of the English language. Language should grow and change, but that does not excuse ignorance. Think of grammar like a huge glacier: change takes time. This will help prevent misuse in email and other written communication:

Millions of inscrutable e-mail messages are clogging corporate computers by setting off requests for clarification, and many of the requests, in turn, are also chaotically written, resulting in whole cycles of confusion.

The beauty of punctuation is its subtlety. This is a situation of do as we say, not as we do — we cannot express our love of certain objets d’adoration (semi-colon, colon, Mr. Dash) without excessive use. But, as with other public displays of affection, there are times and places for everything. We absolutely cannot (and will not) support this statement:

Not everyone agrees. Kaitlin Duck Sherwood of San Francisco, author of a popular how-to manual on effective e-mail, argued in an interview that exclamation points could help convey intonation, thereby avoiding confusion in some e-mail.

“If you want to indicate stronger emphasis, use all capital letters and toss in some extra exclamation points,” Sherwood advises in her guide, available at, where she offers a vivid example:

“Should I boost the power on the thrombo?

“NO!!!! If you turn it up to eleven, you’ll overheat the motors, and IT MIGHT EXPLODE!!”

We are fanning our brow and reaching for our restorative (a very nice Chardonnay, if anyone cares). More exclamation points? In public? We don’t know about you, but there are things that should be confined to, well, your private life. And capital letters? Have you no consideration for society as a whole?

Proper English* requires constraint and dignity. Possibly guidance and a mentor. It should not be practiced by amateurs. Oh yes, we understand the implications of this statement. 99.9% of corporate America will be banned from sending email and memos. This may increase phone calls, we can’t control the world (though we try), but what else can we do to stop this clear affront to our cherished written words?

* – Defined as how we do it in California; that island over by Ireland clearly can’t speak the language. They persist in placing the first floor on the second. See also: snog. See also: hypocrite — we never double-check our posts.

File Under: Square Pegs

2 responses so far ↓

  • Ellen // Dec 8, 2004 at 7:28 am

    It’s well-established among my friends that the semi-colon is the sexiest punctuation mark.

  • booksquare // Dec 9, 2004 at 5:24 pm

    I so want to start hanging out with your friends. Do they use the semi-colon in all company or just among intimate acquaintances? I think a day without a semi-colon is like…well, you did say sexiest.