Punctuation makes its mark on Google generation

May 22, 2009

Great news! The exclamation mark is making a comeback! Scorned by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but a staple of tabloid headline writers, the exclamation mark is back in favour thanks to it popularity with the Google generation and Twitter users.

A couple of years ago, US authors David Shipley and Will Schwalbe alerted us to the fuzzy feeling that multiple exclamation marks in an email can bring about in the recipient. “ ‘Thanks!!!!’ is way friendlier than ‘Thanks’ ”, they claimed, suggesting that grammar is a kind of chocolate sauce that can be poured over any correspondence. I am not best qualified to judge whether Thanks accompanied by four exclamation marks expresses a way deeper level of gratitude than a simple Thanks followed by a full stop. I imagine you would have to be one of those people who populate their emails with OMG, LOL and emoticons to grasp the full impact.

So much as so often depends on context. I admit to having used colon close brackets to share a joke with someone I know well, but I could never imagine concluding an email to my boss enquiring about my claim for a pay rise with thanks and multiple exclamation marks. Perhaps that tells you why I now work for myself!

But I am not : ( about the use of the exclamation mark in email. Like Lynne Truss author of the best selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves, I believe the written word is “adapting to the ascendant medium, which happens to be the most immediate, universal and democratic written medium that has ever existed”. This blog is evidence, if evidence were needed, of that truth.

Anything that gets people thinking about grammar and when to use it appropriately should be welcomed. And having just passed a high street store advertising a ‘Womens beach shop’, the sooner we revisit the issue of possessive apostrophes the better.

● An item in the foreign news section of the papers has underlined other dangers associated with Twitter. Police have arrested an IT worker in Guatemala who encouraged people via a 96-character tweet to withdraw cash from a state-owned bank. The Twitter community is fighting back and is organising a collection to pay the man’s fine.

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