Friday, May 01, 2009

OMG!!!! I hate exclamation marks!!!!!

"An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes," according to the late, great F.Scott Fitzgerald. Well, as someone who is sometimes lucky just to have an audience of one (myself) laughing at my "jokes", I know where he's coming from. He's so right!!!

Apparently, these days we're seeing more exclamation marks than ever before in written and - especially - blended mode communications. In this article from The Guardian, earlier in the week, Stuart Jeffries looks at the exclamation mark and what it means, and how it's changing. Interestingly, he makes the point that 30 years ago, some manual typewriters (those things that existed before word processors and PCs) didn't even have exclamation mark keys:

It is important to realise that advances in technology (if that's what they are) affect how we write. And how we write includes how often we deploy the beloved gasper. Before the 1970s, few manual typewriters were equipped with an exclamation mark key. Instead, if you wanted to express your unbridled joy at - ooh, I don't know - the budding loveliness of an early spring morning and gild the lily of your purple prose with an upbeat startler, you would have to type a full stop, then back space, push the shift key and type an apostrophe.

He goes on to look at how women and men use the exclamation mark in computer-mediated communication and refers to research that suggests women use them more than men:

But technological change is not the only reason for variations in the use of exclamations. Carol Waseleski's unexpectedly diverting paper, Gender and the Use of Exclamation Points in Computer-Mediated Communication, found that women used more exclamation marks than men. But why was this? Are women more excitable? Some theorists (notably D Rubin and K Greene in their paper Gender-Typical Style in Written Language) had argued that the exclamation mark was often a sign of excitability, and that "a high frequency of exclamation points can be regarded as sort of an orthographic intensifier signalling 'I really mean this!'" They also argued that this might convey the writer's lack of stature; that, in fact, a confident person (read: man) could "affirm their views by simply asserting them". Perhaps then the use of multiple exclamation marks is not simply a sign that someone is wearing underpants on their head, but of deeply unmasculine insecurity about expressing one's thoughts. Or maybe that's just my theory!

Waseleski found otherwise. She concluded that exclamation marks were not just marks of excitability but of friendliness, and suggested that one reason women use them more than men is because they were, as a gender, less likely to be socially inept, funless egotists - which isn't quite how she put it. Instead, she wrote: "The results point to the need to reconsider the negative labels that have often been associated with female communication styles, and to investigate [their use] as they relate to email and other forms of computer-mediated communication."

The rest of the article is a good read for anyone interested in language change - especially orthographic change - over the centuries. So read it!!!!

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