Dear New Hope,
I am so happy! I can’t believe what just happened! Whatever you do today, don’t forget to read this!
Exclamation points are often used and many times abused. I had a professor in seminary who was so mentally exhausted by students who would unnecessarily end their sentences with exclamation points, that he outlawed their usage and marked papers down that used them. The nerve of such a man! It especially annoyed our professor when people would use more than one exclamation point, as if adding a second or third brought greater emphasis. The nerve of some people to abuse exclamation points!!! How absurd!! How inconceivable!!!
In a WSJ news article on the use of exclamation points, Katherine Bindley writes that “Exclamation points are stressing people out.” Calling it a “tiny little torture device,” Bindley says that its overuse in workplace emails has both “diluted the punctuation mark’s meaning and inflated its significance.” In other words, the overuse of exclamation points can have an adverse effect on our email because either people gloss over our words as unimportant or they may interpret the tone or volume of our words as anger.
Consider an email you get from a boss or a family member that is laden with exclamation points. Their use of that little punctuation mark can make it seem like they are upset or engaged. Conversely, if the boss doesn’t add an exclamation point, we may interpret it that the boss is unengaged or disinterested. In a humorous, real life example, Bindley talks about a 24-year-old employee who texted her boss saying she was staying home sick from work. The boss replied to her text with a simple, “That’s fine.” Without the use of an exclamation point, the 24-year-old interpreted it that the boss was upset and her job was terminated. She writes, “The period kind of stared me in the face and told me that my career had just ended.” It was nothing of the sort. The boss who replied “That’s fine” was simply saying, “Thanks for letting me know. Enjoy your day.” However, in our age of digital shouting, we have grown accustomed to communicating tone in written communique by overusing exclamation points. How absurd!!!!
Bindley’s article cited a 2016 study that found that “ending sentences with periods in a text was interpreted as abrupt and insincere.” Isn’t that amazing how one little punctuation mark can have such a difference in communication? For example:
Let’s compare the words of texting my daughter.
“Annika, take the trash out when you get home.” Or, “Annika, take the trash out!!” The first seems like a simple request, while the second sounds like I’m yelling at her with urgency.
Or, let’s say my wife texts me
“I love you so much!!!!!” and I respond with, “You too.” Or, “You too!!!!!!” It doesn’t take a genius to see that the first response communicates “thanks, but I’m kind of too busy right now to talk to you,” while the second response shows my eagerness of expressing my love.
Or, compare the emotion of my executive assistant who responds to me with:
“Yes, boss, I will do that.” Or, “Yes, boss, I will do that!!!!” I may interpret her first response as flat or put-out because she included no exclamation. However, I may interpret her second response as eager excitement to do what I’ve asked. Do you see how we’ve become hostage to that little torture device!
Finally, consider the use of exclamation points in scripture translations. It is a good reminder that there were no punctuation marks in the original Hebrew or Greek manuscripts. In the translation to other languages, punctuation marks were added to help readers make sense of it all. At that time, exclamation points were inserted in places to communicate passion, excitement or urgency. Look at the following examples in Scripture:
Mark 9:24-25 “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” The exclamation point shows a dad who is pleading with urgency for Jesus to heal his child. There is no holding back. His emotion is fully engaged. This is no flat or mundane request. It is passionate! It is all encompassing!
Mark 8:33 “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!” Again, with one little punctuation mark, we see the intensity of Jesus’ rebuke. We see that Jesus was engaged in a verbal scolding of Peter because of the error of his ways.
Rom 6:1-2 “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” The exclamation point used here helps show how logically absurd it would be to argue that we can keep sinning in order to get grace. Like saying, “Are you serious!? That is absurd to think!!! Why would anyone argue such a stupid point!!??”
Matt 20:31 “The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” Here are blind men who cried out with urgency and passion. Scripture says they cried out, but the exclamation point helps add to their vocal intensity. This was not a gentle, mundane request that Jesus could ignore, but rather a loud, intense demand of men in absolute crisis.
Some of you may think it silly or absurd for me to write an article on such a simple thing. You may be thinking, “Craig, this is ridiculous! I mean, who really cares about such a punctuation mark!!” But, therein, I just proved my point. Every day, we send hundreds of texts and emails, many of which include exclamation marks. Their overuse may make it sound like you are angry or shouting, as in, “COME ON, MAN, GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER!!” Or, their absence in critical spots may make it sound like you are uninterested. So, for the love of God, I appeal to you as a co-heir of Christ to use exclamation points appropriately!
You are loved!!!!!!!!