A couple of years ago I read a McSweeney’s piece about the exclamation mark that changed my thinking forever. The writer, a woman by the name of Courtenay Hameister, quoted a study by Carol Waseleski titled, “Gender and the Use of Exclamation Points in Computer Mediated Communication,”
"… [the study] deciphered that women use exclamation points 45% more often than men in e-communication. But it’s not because we’re more excited than men. Women use exclamation points online as indicators of a “friendly interaction.” We’ve been socialized to try to make people feel comfortable and to keep the peace. Hence sentences like, “Bill, I can’t wait to see the 4th quarter EMBO Report on the new 12-gauge ball bearings!”
She’s not excited to see that report. No one is excited to see that report. She’s letting Bill know that she’s not angry that it’s late yet. When she’s angry, she’ll use a period.
After reading the piece and those unbelievable and really bummer statistics, I decided to stop using that punctuation mark unless I really meant it. Now I am often accused of writing ‘angry’ emails because they seem to lack all the exclamation marks and therefore friendly demeanor within everyone else’s. I can’t win and this New Republic piece helps explain why:
Now, however, technology has led us to use written language more like speech—that is, in a real-time, back-and-forth between two or more people. “[P]eople are communicating like they are talking, but encoding that talk in writing,” Clay Shirky recently told Slate. This might help explain the rise of the line break: It allows people to more accurately emulate in writing the rhythm of speech. It has also confronted people with the problem of tone in writing, and they’re trying to solve it with the familiar punctuation marks that the line break largely displaced.