If you work for a media company long enough, you’ll find that sometimes overuse or abuse of certain words or phrases necessitates an internal ban. These days, the slow but sure creep of ’Net-speak into our stories can mean that sometimes we have to put the brakes on “bae” or sendYAASSSSS on permanent hiatus. I once had a supervisor who even declared war on exclamation points, commanding us to root out the punctuation wherever it reared its noisy head in headlines (We don’t have to shout, he argued).
And that got me thinking about how I use that pesky punctuation not just at work but IRL.
I found the answer I’d long suspected in a study cited by The Cut for its piece, “The Internet Talks Like a Woman.” Researchers found that “women most frequently used smiley faces to indicate not that they were happy, but that they were being humorous (e.g., “That was dumb of me :)”).” And that gender-based style extended to exclamation points too! (Er, sorry.)
Instead of using exclamation points as they were intended — to convey a strong or forceful feeling — girls have turned them into virtual velvet gloves, using them to soften all of our everyday utterances. Avoiding them puts us at risk of coming across aggressive, cold (or, god forbid, just firm). A co-worker of mine confessed to being an exclamation-point abuser (as am I) but she argued there was no other choice, especially given how many work emails she has to send (“I don’t want to sound like a bitch!”).
“It’s almost obligatory to use an exclamation point,” Susan Herring told The Cut, explaining that the behavior was driven by fear of “being seen as unfriendly,” not an actual abundance of enthusiasm.
Georgetown professor Deborah Tannen has devoted years of study to how male and female communication differs. She shared an example with the blog that underscores why we really need to rethink this — period:
One of Tannen’s students once showed some peers an exchange between two women, where one answered the other with short one- or two-word answers ending in a period. Six of the seven female students said the respondent was angry. All five male students said the respondent was probably busy or just indifferent.
Are you an exclamation point abuser? Share your thoughts on this pesky punctuation in the comments section.
Culled from mtv