Those exclamation marks

18 Aug

When I browse through my mail, I can’t help but notice an excessive number of exclamation marks littered all over. Like confetti after a street party. The common culprits are flyers for warehouse sales that urge me to hurry down soon and cosmetic products that insist I must try one today.

The exclamation mark. What better way to indicate urgency and that irrepressible sense of excitement. Better yet, use three, four or even five of them at the end of every sentence. That ought to knock readers off their feet with a heavy dose of awesomeness. Now read my lips: n…o…no.

Whenever I see a phrase that ends with multiple exclamation marks, I wonder what goes into the process of deciding the quantity used. Oftentimes, I think of the marketing manager instructing the poor writer to add two more, because a single one looks lonely and miserable. Then the director comes along and decrees that three more should be added (four if he’s in a jolly good mood that day). It’s almost as if the sales revenue is directly influenced by the number of exclamation marks. If only.

Exclamation marksLike the word ‘free’, the exclamation mark is used and abused. And If you realise, the two of them are often paired together.

What is so repugnant about the exclamation mark, you ask. I wouldn’t say it’s detestable but when it falls into the hands of people who have no other way to convey excitement than to hit the key repeatedly, it becomes tiresome.

For one, its generous usage in advertising collaterals means that its original significance has been devalued to the level of pure tackiness. Somewhere along the line, marketing executives had such a field day using the exclamation mark as an act of revenge against nitpicking copywriters that the tradition has stuck ever since. Okay, I made that up but who knows?

And it seems that the liberal usage has a mind-numbing backlash on modern readers who have all become immune to its intended effect. Do you squeal and jump in joy when you read a sales pitch that has more exclamation marks than the actual word count? I bet not.

The next time you finish writing a direct mailer or a newsletter for your business, read and decide which key phrase truly deserves an exclamation mark. Or perhaps you don’t even need one. The outburst of ecstasy that appears at well-timed intervals usually comes across as more genuine. Your readers will appreciate that.

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