OPINION: OMG am I missing the (exclamation) point

OPINION: OMG am I missing the (exclamation) point



So much depends on punctuation. As in, there’s a big difference between “eats shoots and leaves” and “eats, shoots, and leaves,” to borrow from a famous book about punctuation (titled “Eats Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation!”)

Not all that long ago I wrote about the exclamation mark (or exclamation point) which in the advent of social media, tweeting and messaging and the like has morphed into an easy target for derision: Everything on Facebook is so exciting!!!! for example, and I was also mentioning about how we get letters to the editor heavy on the exclamation point punctuation, with some writers apparently convinced that whatever point it is that they are making is so important it has earned the right to end in multiple exclamation points (!!!) and I thought about how silly this all seemed until I came across an article which observed how a 12-year-old emphasized that it can be one exclamation point or three but never two (rules are rules!) and I remember thinking the world has come a long way since I was sitting in a class diagramming sentences and studying Noam Chomsky and trying not to write endless sentences.

Because when I was growing up, before the advent of the computer and the New England Patriots, you didn’t see a lot of the exclamation mark. It seemed held in reserve for that special occasion when something was really alarming or really exciting (!). So perhaps it took the advent of social media and texting and the like for that particular piece of punctuation to realize its full potential. Or maybe it’s the other way around ((( sad! ))).

What hasn’t changed much is the use of italics to make sure the reader recognizes what’s really of significance. J.D. Salinger used this a lot in his stories, to help signify a particular way a character is speaking, but columnists also use it all the time to make sure you understand precisely what it is they’re trying to get across. The Journal-Inquirer scribe Chris Powell uses italics in his columns and New York Times columnists do it too, but less often, which can be sneaky. So there might just be two or even just one instance of an italicized word in an entire column of many, many words, which can make them not always so easy to not miss when you’re editing. So if you see this (italics) (end italics) or this <em> <-em> around a word it means the word was supposed to be put in italics and I’ve missed it. My bad.

What’s interesting is how most readers who write in hardly ever italicize. They like ALL CAPS. As in, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!

You have to wonder if it really makes all that much difference today, when you don’t have to punctuate, even, and can just use an emoji or emoticon. The world of using these little things that can mean something or can mean anything moves so fast it’s exhausting trying to keep up or worrying about whether you’ll be left behind. So I recognized a long time ago I am not cool.

I am so not cool (saying not cool is probably not cool, in fact, probably) that I still like to do this ;) when I like something, which, I think, is winking and smiling. I do that, even though it might be terribly old-fashioned :(

Sometimes I think that one day we’ll maybe abandon all caution and just let punctuation chaos have its way, like string theory. 

So, just to take a random sample from a recent article (about Meriden), you might have a story that reads like this:

A City Council resolution!  that advised the city manager to produce a 2019-20 <italics>budget<end italics> with a “zero increase ;) !!!” in spending did not :( win support Tuesday from the council’s Finance Committee.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!

Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or jkurz@record-journal.com.


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