WORDS GOOD! BANG BAD?
Screamer. Startler. Gasper. Shriek. Pling. Bang.
There is a single, potent mark that goes by many names like these.
Are you inserting that mark into your writing as a tool of emphasis?
And if so, are you plinging yourself in the eye, screaming at your reader, startling your message off the page, gasping with every word, eventually shrieking into the void, and banging yourself into oblivion?
Each of the aforementioned words (pling, et al) is a synonym for what is one of the most declarative and most overused pieces of punctuation in contemporary English: the “!”.
It is also known as the exclamation mark or exclamation point.
Granted, this is probably not be about you and your writing.
But guaranteed, you know such a writer. You? You are more likely a victim of this punctuational assault on the senses.
And it can help to know a little about the weaponry of one’s adversaries in an effort to disarm them.
One great place to start is with the great F. Scott Fitzgerald, contender for Great American Novelist status as author of The Great Gatsby.
Fitzgerald was mentoring Hollywood journalist Sheila Graham, who had literary aspirations. She asked Fitzgerald to look at something she had written. According to Ms. Graham, Fitzgerald read the piece, edited it, and told her…
“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
In other words: Ah-ha! Ah-ha-ha-ha! Ah-ha-ha-ha--ha-ha-ha! HA! HA!!
Nobody needs that.
The person who needs it least is the joke teller.
When you tell a joke that way, you lose the telling and become the joke. And the comedy is not pretty.
That said, the exclamation point has a colorful history. Really!
It has been places and seen things.
It may have originated in Latin, evolving from “io,” which was an exclamation of joy. Medieval copyists would write “io” at the end of a sentence to express joy. Gradually, the “i" was moved on top of the “o”. And eventually, the “o” evolved to a dot, and the rest is history!
It’s possible that you’ve used an old manual typewriter that has no exclamation point key. Instead, you were required to type an apostrophe, backspace and type a period. (That should give you some idea about how frequently one was intended to use the mark.)
Back in the day, secretaries and proofreaders called the mark by perhaps the most glorious of its many names.
And that name was, “Bang.”
The fun option is that it’s a reference to comic-book style, where a gunshot is indicated by “!”.
Computer hacker slang has borrowed the “bang” descriptor, and also uses the words “shriek” and “pling” to indicate “!”.
And yes, “!” has become a fixture in social media and in texting.
But I’ve even seen it used to excess in BUSINESS EMAIL!!!!!
Let’s revisit the word “pling” for a moment.
It’s a lovely word. It sounds like the barest tap of a tiny hammer on fine crystal.
That sound, used once, can be pleasing.
Less pleasing is when that tack hammer BANGS that crystal over and over until there is breakage and crashage and a gigantic mess of epic proportions.
Yes, from joyful to junk with just a few keystrokes.
When used with relentless abandon, the exclamation point stops being a mark and becomes the message.
The message is, “I have nothing to say. Words escape me. But I possess a giant bag of hammers and I will use them all right here and now.”
The “!” is a single kiss. But some writers are sucking face in the backseat with their date and nobody needs to see that.
The problem of the “!” is a problem of emotion.
A writer might have powerful feelings, but mistakes the mark for conveying those feelings with power.
Excessive use of the mark is thrashing about in a cage, the emotion imprisoned by a lack of verbal control and command.
Replacing the mark with potent wording is far superior in conveying meaning.
Let’s express this as succinctly as a tweet, shall we?
“I hate exclamation points!!!! They suck!!!! Stop doing it!!!!!!!”
OK. But what about…
“Every time you use the mark, it’s a dagger thrust into the heart of your reader. Each exclamation point kills your message, your reader and you just a little bit more.”
Each of those thoughts will fit Twitter. But one of these things is not like the other.
THE FIRST ONE IS SCREAMING ABOUT ME!!!!
The second one is about someone more important, and the injury being done to them.
Persuasion does not come at the end of a bang!
Persuasion doesn’t scream, shriek or pling.
Persuasion comes at the end of phrasing that matters.
Try turning the scream into a whisper. It’s easier to hear.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in Park City
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Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.