There’s a “Seinfeld” episode in which Elaine breaks up with her boyfriend over his failure to use an exclamation point.
If you don’t remember it, Elaine’s boyfriend had written down some phone messages, one of which said that her friend had a baby. Elaine found it “curious” that he didn’t think someone having a baby warranted an exclamation point.
“Maybe I don’t use my exclamation points as haphazardly as you do,” Elaine’s boyfriend tells her:
I’ve had several conversations recently about the overuse, abuse, and misuse of exclamation points. These days even the most mundane statements receive exclamation points.
Why all the emphasis? Have we forgotten what we were taught in elementary school? If everything is emphasized, nothing is.
Below are a few real-world examples of exclamation point misuse, ranging from questionable to ridiculous. As you read these, remember that exclamation points should be used sparingly—and only to express strong emotion or to indicate that you should yell when you read the sentence out loud:
1. “Help! for Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problem Every Writer Faces” –book by Roy Peter Clark
2. “I have extensive experience in graphic design!” –cover letter sent with a job application
3. “Laura!!!!!” –opening line of an email
4. “Our life in Jesus!!” –billboard advertising a church
5. “Please!!!!!!!!!!!!! Remember !!!!!!!!!! To clean up after yourselves!!!!!!!!!!!!!” –sign in an office breakroom
6. “Enter a valid email address!!!” –registration screen for a website
7. “$21.79 buys you $500,000 of term life insurance!!!” –email subject line
8. ” Log in successful! You can now pay your property taxes!” –county tax office website
9. “Thank you for coming in to work today!” –sign in a department’s breakroom
10. “Spring sale!!!!!!” –ad for a furniture store
11. “Let’s Learn Medicare!” –title of a Medicare training manual
What exclamation-point abuses have you seen?
Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor and a regular contributor to Ragan.com and PR Daily. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.
This article first ran on Ragan.com in March 2016.