Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How White Bloggers Use Exclamation Points on The Internet!

(In honor of my inclusion in the recent NYT Opinionator exploring #blacktags/the racial divide in Twitter culture, I repost some old theorizing on how white bloggers use !!!! on the internet)


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

straw hole!
exclamation cone


  1. That OJ carton is much too restrained. I don't think the package designer was white. It doesn't encourage you to OPEN! it. The NO PULP lacks excitement, when that should be the most dramatic statement on the carton. And I'd like to see a little more of a sense of urgency about the pushing with thump and inserting straw.

    Am I the only one who's thinking "Straw Hole!" sounds a tad obscene now?

  2. (Dang, I thought I fixed that "thump" typo but all I did was type another "p.")

  3. Anonymous10/02/2008

    Sounds like someone needs to go out and get some more straw hole!

  4. Remember ! perfume.

    Yeah, me neither.

  5. Anonymous10/02/2008

    re. your comment. I too think semi-colons are a little racist.

    I confess it's because I don't know how to use them. But do I really need to know?

  6. Man, that Straw Hole! pic should win best supporting blog image! Such a perfect find....

    p.s. Semi-colons are easy; they separate sentences. If you don't know, now you know!

  7. "if I had to write a "Save Me!" note I would abstain from exclamations so as not to make it seem like a joke."

    This is one of those things I never really thought about but will be sure to apply...

    God forbid it ever comes down to that!

    And yeah, Straw Hole sounds a bit randy to me now.

  8. Anonymous10/08/2008

    White Hipster Bloggers also fail to use Umlauts. I think they're racist against Germans.

    Oh, wait. What I meant to say was "I think they're racist against Germans!"

  9. Anonymous10/11/2008

    Damn, but this is a good piece of writing. Is it all right if I sort of ironically hate you for being so talented?

  10. Anonymous1/16/2009

    great link thanks

  11. Anonymous4/07/2012

    I think there's an inverse relationship between testosterone and exclamation usage in tech texts. Girls and women love them!! And men shouldn't!! Men who do are a turnoff to women. But I haven't noticed any racial/cultural affects. Maybe white girls are less embarassed to show enthusiasm! As a white woman, I am annoyed by other women who use the exclamation point too generously and I am confused by seemingly straight men who use it at all.

    As for Gawker, they're gay.


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