Being a word geek, I tend to browse my language books for kicks, even if I don’t have anything to look up. Today, I noticed a book that I happened to have sitting in the bathroom and thought to myself, “I wonder what this grammar says about the use of the comma? That might be fun to look at.” I’m always especially interested to see where they come down on the Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma), because that tells you something about what slant the whole book has. I have a library copy of this book and am considering purchasing it, but I want to know what I’m getting into if I do.
I ended up in a section called “Common Punctuation Mistakes,” and found a delightful directive on the use of the exclamation point. I reproduce it here for your enjoyment.
Overuse of exclamation points. Exclamation points, used to convey excitement, should be used sparingly—that is, when their omission would look strange. For example, the following sentence merits the use of an exclamation point due to its subject matter:
Correct: When the lottery official placed the check for $43 million in Samantha’s hands, she jumped up and down, screaming “This is the best day of my life!”
Incorrect: These pretzels are making me thirsty!
Note, too, that exclamation marks should not be used to indicate emphasis, irony, or humor. In addition, you should avoid using multiple exclamation marks in a row at the end of a sentence.
I understand the authors here are reacting to a legitimate surfeit of exclamation marks currently seen in writing, as evidenced by the above. Exclamation marks are multiplying because, by this overuse, they are losing their emphaticity. But what joylessness! Does it take $43 million to “merit” an exclamation point?!?! How shall I emphasize the depth of my thirst and the saltiness of the pretzels if they rob me of this device? I can but disregard their edict. I shall be as excited, emphatic, ironic, and humorous as I desire. And I invite you to do the same!!!