So this post about affirmative action on Gawker sparked some interesting dialogue on its own merits, but a seeming off-thread comment about how Moe, and Gawker in general, use exclamation points in excess ("when did a communicable "replace a period with an exclamation point in every third sentence (at least)" disease sweep through gawker?") struck a chord with me.
Cause it's true. Moe does use a lot of them. And so do most of the editors on the site. And many others across the nets. And I've thought about this. And so in the comments I responded (in part):
...But I now think there's legitimate ethno-cultural cachet to the usage, i.e. "exclamation points" could be an entry on Stuff White People Like.
I mean, it's an easy way to add energy or personality or whathaveyou to writing, especially if you're churning out posts like some sort of machine that churns out a lot of stuff. But you really don't see it much on black, hip hop, or other ethnic blogs. Knahmean? [ed:I think they/we might do more coding through slanguage. Feel me?]
In any event, since hanging around blogger/bledia types I do more drinking, smoking, and using of exclamation points. So I think it's a grammatical representation of some part of the assimilation process!...And I couldn't get the thought out of my head....
Seems to me there are two types of exclamation points:
The first kind are the ones lots of people use. The ones that come big, or in different colors, and used to be a remedial tool for conveying excitement in advertising/marketing. Someday spammers might figure out a way to enhance them so much that they smoke and sparkle, and pop out and shoot lasers all so you know what that hole on the top of your OJ is for.
The second kind are the SMART exclamation points; the hipster-Mac to the Period's PC. These particular points add personality and punch to prose, but there's a specific cool panache to it all.
It's sort of like that itty bitty stud on the nose of that white girl who likes The Roots. That stud is the dot under the second kind of exclamation point.
And when you see that exclamation point, it's always ironic; a cynical slash across the throat of earnestness, a joke punctuated by a knowing nudge to the rib.
Looking at both types of exclamation points immediately begs the question: rhetorically speaking, do we really need exclamation points?
We know the mark is only to capture the *idea* of an alert or emergency or importance. If something were a "real emergency" you would choose direct oral communication over writing. And even if forced to write something that must convey a heightened sense of urgency, you're probably better off without it for speed and/or clarity. (if I had to write a "Save Me!" note I would abstain from exclamations so as not to make it seem like a joke. A legitimate cry for help should have a calming effect so the person can think about what to do, i think.)
The truth is best received in language that lacks empty emotional gestures, hence no exclamation points (or blinking lights, smoke etc.) in the New York Times, academic articles etc. This is acknowledged when Moe (sorry to single you out, purely circumstantial), or any of these hipster-media types link a boring SUBSTANTIVE article before one of the exclamation points. It's the 1-2 punch of style and substance! (for lack of better substance at the moment)
Of course exclamation point don't really add excitement! That's why it's ironic, silly! Sort of how American Apparel uses sex! Exclamation points are the American Apparel of the hipster-bloggeratti! Dress your posts in corduroy and exclamation points. Ha!
Remember how there was a brief stage in your life where either you or some of your friends found it hilarious to push someone's elbow while they write and ruin whatever it was they were doing? The exclamation point is the encapsulating of that impulse. That kid, grammonified(?).
Even thinking about the mark visually. Physically. The exclamation point feels like the product of one of the original sentence-makers saying something, with a period, and then his insecure partner had nothing to add so he just drew a line over the period and repeated the statement in a higher volume. Voila.
whatever anyways all punctuation, Marks; Are For Sheep duh pffft