Tell me, are you an ‘exclamation pointer’? Do you feel like an email isn’t complete without the inclusion of an exclamation point or two to show your enthusiasm? Believe me, you’re not alone! See, the exclamation mark is used so commonly nowadays it sometimes feels like it’s lost all meaning. So, let’s take a quick journey through history and see how the exclamation point has evolved over time and why we have such an affinity with using it today.
When was the exclamation point invented?
From what we can tell, the exclamation point came into being in the 15th century (that’s the 1400s). Somewhere within that era it was first introduced into English printing.
The reason for its invention was to show wonderment in written form. Think ‘Lo!’, ‘Hark!’, ‘Behold!’; the kinds of phrases designed to catch the attention of readers by impacting the flow of the text.
What are some other names for the exclamation mark?
We all know ‘exclamation point’ and ‘exclamation mark’ right? When it was first invented it was known for a long time as the “note of admiration” or “sign of admiration or exclamation” (technically referred to as ‘punctus exclamativus’ or ‘or punctus admirativus’). I can see why they changed the name. ‘Exclamation point’ is much easier to remember AND to say out loud.
They have also been referred to as a ‘bang’ in American typesetting manuals in the 1950s and a ‘shriek’ in hacker culture?
Do you know of any other names used by other organisations or groups? Let me know in the comments 😊
How is an exclamation point used now?
Well, the answer to this revolves around marketing (copywriting, in particular), general communication and most importantly, emotion.
The exclamation point was picked up by marketing firms back in the ‘Mad Men’ days. Because of its ability to stop a reader in their tracks, it was used to really drive home the point that “Our product is the best!” An exclamation point stirs up emotions in us and can sometimes cause us to trust a brand more, because it seems to be more confident in its products or services when an exclamation point is used. Because this connection was made, it evolved into an effective, attention-grabbing marketing tool that is still used today, although it has been replaced somewhat by emojis.
We all know that written forms of instant communication (email, sms, etc.) aren’t always the most genuine or decipherable forms of communication. Due to the fact that all we see are words on a screen, we tend to overthink what’s been said or we interpret the message in a completely different way than was intended. That’s just human psychology.
This is largely due to the lack of emotion in most general forms of text and the fact that we can’t get a good idea of what the person is trying to say (or whether they’re being genuine) because we’re relying solely on written words rather than seeing the whole picture as we would with a face-to-face conversation.
As a result of this, we speculate and we misinterpret.
So, what happens when we want to come across as friendly, happy, angry, excited, frustrated or any other way that requires emotion in text? We add an exclamation point.
Can you provide an example of this?
Sure! Take these lines, for example…
- I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s meeting.
- I’m frustrated with how you’re treating me.
- Thank you for your help.
Now, see how much more emotive they are with one simple punctuation edit (and a cheeky smiley face)…
- I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s meeting!
- I’m frustrated with how you’re treating me!
- Thank you for your help! 🙂
You see, the exclamation point isn’t just punctuation. It’s emotion.
THINK | WRITE | CREATE
Note: The inspiration for this article came from an episode of the Netflix series ‘explained’. I would highly recommend watching the entire series, if you haven’t already. I binged it over the span of a single weekend. Enjoy!