Goodbye (!) Exclamation (!) Points (!)

I recently got a new follower on my Twitter page - PollyFrost. I wasn't sure who she was, but a bit of digging revealed that Polly Frost is a playwright and writer who has written for the Atlantic and the New Yorker. She has also written for the Barnes & Noble Book Review, it seems. For them, she's written a very funny piece about the overuse of exclamation points!

Reading her article, punctuated throughout with incessant exclamation points, reminded me of a quote I'd read some time ago on the limits of these dangerous punctuation marks. Again, thanks to Polly Frost, the quote came from William Maxwell, fiction editor for the New Yorker. His claim was that every writer gets only two exclamation points -- per career. This was, of course, before the age of the internet, with every other person and their mothers on Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail.

Regardless, the message stuck with me. A quick look across my pages and previous posts shows that I clearly have not followed the rule. But it does make you think about the placement of every exclamation point. If you could have only one, would it really be worth it?

Reading a book on the Tuskegee Airmen that is punctuated with remarks like "He crashed and was taken POW by the Germans almost immediately!" or "The pilot's left wing caught fire, resulting in an emergency landing on enemy territory!" or "Eisenhower went up for a secret fly-over in Germany!" just... doesn't do it for me. (Note: those aren't real quotations, I made them up. But I did recently read an aviation history book with a bit too many exclamations!)

My general rule-of-thumb is to stick to one ! per piece (be it email, Facebook status, blog post) and even less when writing more formally (press releases, essays, the like). And I tend to mistrust any writer that overdoes it on the exclamation points.


  1. I like the one-per-piece rule of thumb. I know I'm WAY guilty of breaking that rule.

    Any discussion of exclamation points always reminds of me of that Seinfeld episode in which Elaine gets in a fight with her boyfriend because he didn't use an exclamation point to convey his excitement on the phone message about a friend having a baby! And then she over-uses exclamation points in the book she's editing. Ah, good times. :)

  2. There's a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald that I was reminded of while reading this post. It goes something like, "Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke."

    Love that man.

  3. Greg - I'm guilty of breaking my own one-per-piece rule as well, but I do try. And I love that episode! (See? One per comment, too.)

    Emily - Love the quote. Note to self: read more Fitzgerald. Oh, who am I kidding? I say that about every to-read author.

  4. Thank you so much for mentioning my humor piece, Kerry. I really enjoyed what you had to say and the comments. Love the Fitzgerald quote.

    I'm enjoying reading your blog. So glad we met on Twitter (with enthusiasm but no exclamation point).

  5. Polly - You are absolutely welcome! I really enjoyed your original piece. Glad you found me on Twitter, as I'm actually enjoying all of your pieces.

    And enthusiasm without exclamation is duly noted, and appreciated.

  6. Great post! The leader of my writing workshop reminds us of this all the time! The Fitzgerald comment is great! And I love your blog! I'll definitely by back!

  7. I suffered from over exclamation use until recently! They were invisible to me, but my wife found them everywhere when she proofread my book! I'm being funny with the above "!" Seriously, I've reformed.

  8. I can't agree with you more dear Cousin. And your post is now making me almost twitch whenever I see unnecessary exclamation points in emails and internet posts.

    So glad I found you have a blog. I'm enjoying it.

  9. Andrew - I know what you mean. When you go back through with a fine-tooth comb, you start to see them everywhere, and you didn't even know you were using them (!).

    Hap - How are you? Been a while. Hear you're moving to Chicago soon. Sorry to hear you're twitching at the site of exclamation points, especially given the number popping up everywhere, but I am glad to hear you are enjoying the blog. It was about time I put my nerd-dom to some kind of use...


Thanks for stopping by!