I proofread an email my mother wrote the other day and knew instantly she had crossed into senior citizenry with her usage of the much-dreaded ALL CAPS.
“Don’t ever write in all caps,” I told her.
“Why? It’s easier to read.”
“No, it’s not. It means you’re Old Yeller. And I don’t mean the feisty, heroic dog kind.”
“What if I meant to yell?”
“Then exclaim! But for the sake of humanity, get your pinky off the caps lock.”
I picture all the heated reviews of products that have failed her and I know she will continue down this self-destructive road of punctuation butchery.
Of course, we use punctuation differently in each social medium, which limits my knowledge to this small blog, an iPhone and mental telepathy. But if I look over my texts, I’m amazed at how the exclamation mark is vital. Bland, banal sentences are suddenly exclaimed. And the more the merrier. Happy New Year!!!! Great to see you!!!! My house is blue!!! We’re having chicken tonight!!!
And if you don’t? You’re a coldhearted snake. Happy New Year is not the same as Happy New Year! And I feel more love in Thank You! than Thank You. That period is chilly. Can I get an amen?!!
But there is resistance amongst some. The exclamation mark is more of an emotional investment. People may wonder if they appear too eager, too aggressive, too silly. You’re no longer saying something. You’re exclaiming something. Hello. Hello! It’s safer to throw down that period. It’s more mysterious — less accessible. Or perhaps the exclamation mark feels disingenuous. There have been times I’ve been dead on the couch and text someone: Can’t wait to see you! The exclamation mark gives off the illusion of energy and excitement when really I feel like this:
I’d much rather watch old reruns of Seinfeld in stretchy pants and pass out at 9 pm. But I need that kick in the ass exclamation mark because somewhere deep, deep down, I really do want to see this person. I’m just beat. If they phoned me and heard my voice, the façade is too detectable. That’s why no one calls anyone anymore.
This casual use of excitement somewhat applies to email, too. But it can be deceptive. I once corresponded with a teacher who was delightful in written form. In person, however, she was this:
I was perplexed at her exuberant and enthusiastic written voice and believed she had no right to exclaim with happy sentences. She was in violation of writer fraud and should cease and dismiss her false punctuation and pleasant style.
Use them too much, however, and you quickly become that person who has finally discovered a rainbow of Skittles:
Remember: The period can never be replaced. Period.
In novel writing, the best form of punctuation is the kind you do not see or notice. It’s so purposeful it blends into the background. This is grammar working properly, elevating prose and breathing life into a story as seamlessly as possible. This is why I find the most evil violation of punctuation in novel writing is the abandonment of proper usage. (I’m thinking of you Cormac McCarthy! It wouldn’t have taken me 5 years to read All the Pretty Horses if you had just used quotes for your dialogue.) As soon as I see an author can’t be bothered, either can I. It’s a risky and self-indulgent proposition. That’s when you sharpen your exclamation points into daggers and commence throwing . . . Pew! Pew! Pew!
Has anyone else been thrown off by someone’s punctuation usage?