Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Exclamation Marks

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Exclamation Marks

Article excerpt

'Like eating in the street,' said my husband. Astonishing! He'd said something not only coherent in itself but also connected to a remark I'd been addressing to him. I had just said that at school I had been taught that the use of the exclamation mark was vulgar or rude.

Observant readers will have noted that I have already used one exclamation mark in this column. My defence is that I exclaimed. I agree that exclamation alone does not constitute conversation. On Twitter, a new and annoying cliché, often appended to a photograph, is the bare exclamation: 'Wow! Just wow!' It usually belongs to the genre 'clickbait', disappointing the reader once it is clicked on and studied.

I was shocked to see that the Oxford Dictionaries website says that one of the main uses of the exclamation mark is to end a sentence that expresses 'something that amuses the writer'. In my experience, people use it to indicate that something is a joke even though it is not funny. I see that the new edition of Fowler , edited by Jeremy Butterfield, has added an introductory quotation from F. Scott Fitzgerald to its short entry on the subject: 'An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke. …

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