Checking a Web site once for a play listing, I was blasted with exclamation points:
“Get involved!” “Click here to buy tickets online! Or click here for additional box office information!” “… or send an email to reserve your tickets for these special-event performances!” “Click on each photo to see it in a larger size!”
I never knew that buying tickets online was so exhilarating! Or that box office information would make me jump up and dance a jig! Or that sending an email to reserve tickets would send me into a tizzy!
I love the theater and attend many plays a year, but I don’t consider the ordering of tickets worthy of an exclamation point. All that excitement wears me out. I can’t read much of that style of writing because it puts me on edge, like standing with my toes hanging over a cliff.
The website, to its credit, used only single exclamation points. Many people don’t stop at one. I saw multiple points on a Scottish discussion forum, paraphrased here: “I can’t wait for the Scottish games to begin!!!!! I’m so excited!!!!!!” as if the effervescing writer dropped her tumbler of scotch on the shift-1 key when her cairn terrier grabbed her dish of haggis.
I learned long ago that a writer should rarely use exclamation points, that the content and the writing will convey the level of excitement. “Reference Handbook of Grammar and Usage” says exclamation points are used more frequently in narrative writing than in other types and “should always be used thoughtfully and sparingly (and only one at a time!) because too many exclamation points weaken the emphasis they are intended to provide.” H.W. Fowler says in “Modern English Usage” that excessive use of the exclamation point betrays the uneducated or unpracticed writer.
Exclamation points are best reserved for situations that truly justify them, like this poster from 1851: “Caution!! Colored people of Boston, one & all, You are hereby respectfully cautioned and advised, to avoid conversing with the Watchmen and Police Officers of Boston, For since the recent order of the mayor & aldermen, they are empowered to act as kidnappers and slave catchers …” Protecting one’s freedom from enslavement is something to get excited about, much more so than clicking on photos.
Writing need not explode with energy. Those exclamation points try to entice me by exciting me, but I would rather decide for myself if I’m interested in the proffered product. Write a normal, calm sentence, and I’ll decide if I’m excited. I don’t need to be told to mark my calendar, that I can’t miss an event, that I’m going to love this or that. But that’s not the theory with a great deal of advertising copy, which often bursts with excess energy and false cheer, its goal to convince me that some event can’t be missed. It’s often written in second person minus the subject, starting with verbs, in a manner similar to but less commanding than imperative sentences, and often overusing exclamation points: “See the vibrant colors of autumn! Taste the tantalizing flavors of homemade cooking! Hear the jingle of horse-drawn sleighs! See old-time woodsmen practicing long-lost skills!” Advertising copy loves clichés. Quaint shops are always nestled somewhere and are always the area’s best-kept secret. I guess some people like advertising copy and believe it works, but true, accurate descriptions would entice me more than chipper generalities.
As far as the Web site goes, I did click to order tickets online, and I enjoyed the show, but I left the exclamation points at home.
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