There was a time when I seldom used exclamation points. I never used them in business letters because I was afraid I’d look like someone who would spill her sixth cup of company coffee on important documents and gossip all day with co-workers. I was careful not to use too many of them in letters to my parents so that they wouldn’t call up anxiously inquiring if I was on drugs. I certainly didn’t put them in notes to guys I was interested in. I wanted to appear mysterious and alluring, not desperate for a date.
But now I use them all the time! I have to! Otherwise people would think I had no enthusiasm for their friendship or no energy to get the job done!
Recently I was sorting through my emails over the last five years. If I didn’t know myself, I’d think my personality had changed completely– from a person striving to be at least a little dignified to someone who was the human equivalent of a Jack Russell terrier!!
Now when I get emails from friends who don’t use a lot of exclamation points, I wonder if they’re mad at me. Why didn’t they write “Hi Polly!!!!”? And are they being sarcastic if they simply write “Congratulations.” rather than “Congratulations!!!!!!!!” when I tell them I found a good parking spot? I can’t just write “Happy Birthday!” anymore on a friend’s Facebook page. Because the person before me has written “Happy Birthday!!!!!!” What?– the recipient will think–she’s too half-hearted to hold the key down?
Of course I absolutely have to use them when I Tweet, even if it’s only to say that I’ve just washed the dishes! Otherwise, everyone would wonder why I bothered telling them!!
The other day I realized that even when I ended sentences with an exclamation point, I had begun to feel the need to insert (!) after individual key words, like: “Confirming my teeth (!) cleaning appointment (!!) with you, Dr. Carlson!!!” And when I read books now, I find myself beginning to wonder what Henry James was thinking when he wrote: “Live all you can – it’s a mistake not to.” Dude, it should be: “Live all you can!!!!! It’s a mistake not to!!!!!!” Then the reader will go, “Awesome! I’m there with you, Henry! Rock on with The Ambassadors!”
Yet sometimes my new, exclamating self exhausts what’s left of the other me. Recently I counted up the exclamation points I’d used in one morning at the computer. 378!!!!!! Meanwhile, I was still in my bathrobe, hadn’t taken a shower by 1 PM, and felt badly in need of a 10 hour nap. I saw that one of my emails consisted of “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and nothing else. And it was to a stranger and not in response to anything he had written to me.
So here’s what I propose: let’s have an annual Nixclamation Day. Maybe after that 24 hours we will regain energy for our real-life interactions and activities, a renewed sense of what really does excite us, and the right to be deeply unenthusiastic about our friends’ announcements of their two-pound weight losses. Maybe we’ll even rediscover the power of this: .
Polly Frost is a playwright whose humor has appeared in The Atlantic and The New Yorker.She can be found on the web at http://pollyfrost.com.