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O bloody period!

[ 95 ] June 17, 2013 |

A friend of mine is bothered by the absence of a standard English punctuation mark that captures something in the emotional spectrum between the matter of fact period and what one might call the “sincere exclamation point.”

Example of the latter:

Thanks for pulling me out of that burning bus!

It troubles him that we also have to make do with what might be termed the hyper-inflationary exclamation point, i.e., thanks for getting me a copy of that memo!

Shouldn’t, he wonders, there be something in between? (I suppose internet emoticons are a manifestation of this urge, but you can’t put a blinking smiley face in formal written texts — not yet anyway, LOL!)

Are there languages that have gradations between the stern “.” and the effusive “!” ?

And what would a good intermediate punctuation mark look like?

. . . does the Japanese “neh” perform something like this function?

Comments (95)

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  1. Hanspeter says:

    You are so right !!!1!!!eleventy!!!

  2. scythia says:

    I think I might have an idea!!!!

  3. Red_cted says:

    Well, there’s always the elipsis…

    • Lee Rudolph says:

      More specifically (as in your example), the ellipsis of aposiopesis, which indicates that the sentence has ended before the thought that it expresses, rather than the more common ellipsis of omission. That almost captures what I think is wanted, but not quite—to really work there’d have to be some hint that the thought is meant to end with mild excitement. Hmm…

  4. S Physicist says:

    I’d guess you just have to make it happen with words. What I do know, though, is that the title of this post is quite misleading.

  5. Hanspeter says:

    You can always co-opt some of these (although they already have specific meanings)





    !

    ǃ
    !

    ؟

  6. Manju says:

    Myra had the baby.

  7. Wrye says:

    Kind of? “Ne” is a tag used for emphasis/agreement, like many other words, such as the Canadian “Eh”. But while tags like “right” “Eh” “Innt” “Nicht Var” and so on are vocalized, punctuation marks aren’t.

  8. Warren Terra says:

    Seems like a job for the interrobang. It’s not a mark we use in English, and golly it’s a fun word to say.

    Alternately, the sincere emphasis could appropriate the exclamation mark, and the ironic emphasis could be relegated to the interrobang.

  9. Dave says:

    We’ve got one. It’s the exclamation mark. If someone pulls you from a burning bus, send them a card.

  10. LeeEsq says:

    We can always use the word love to demonstrate sincerity. Ex. “Thanks for pulling me out of the burning bus, love.”

  11. Leeds man says:

    Fucking language. How does it work.

  12. LeftWingFox says:

    How about a bullet point?

    Thanks for the email•

    Elevated, slightly enthusiastic, but still a period•

  13. CaptBackslap says:

    There was a book in the late 90s called Metapunctuation that introduced hundreds of ridiculous punctuation marks in the service of sentences like “that’s not a raccoon, it’s some sort of giant spider[rising fear]”

    It was fun, in a humor-book-about-punctuation kind of way.

  14. Hogan says:

    I was SO SURE this was going to be a bspence post about menstruation.

  15. Jeremy says:

    Wrye is right that “ne” is more for agreement, or equivalent to “…, no/right?”

    In Japanese, a more similar one would be “yo”. I’m not sure about the precise use, but in my experience it seems be used for emphasis, and can be followed by a full stop or exclamation point.

    • ichininosan says:

      You are right about the use of “ne,” which is mainly used to elicit nods of agreement. “yo” however, is used as “don’t you know,” when you are conveying some information that the listener was previously unaware of.

  16. Royko says:

    Sounds like a question for the Language Log.

  17. TidyCat says:

    re: Wrye & Jeremy – “ne” is how you ask for agreement – kono neko wa totemo kawaii desu ne? “that cat is cute, don’t you agree?” and “yo” is used for emphasis in a reply – “kono neko wa totemo kawaii desu yo!” or “kono neko wa totemo kawaii desu yo ne!”. other than Japanese punctuation/expressions lack in much the same way English does … *sigh*

  18. TidyCat says:

    also too? the “yo” phrase should have the agreement first – either “hai!”, “eh!” or “unn” depending on formality/relationship. sorry, i’m out of practice …

  19. Anonymous says:

    There’s no circumstance where an exclamation mark is a better choice than a period. So, there’s no intermediate step either.

    “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.” F. Scott Fitzgerald.

    “An exclamation mark should only be used in dialog, and then only if the speaker is being disemboweled.” Attributed to various.

  20. News Nag says:

    Perhaps simply capitalize Meh.

  21. DocAmazing says:

    If you grew up on Marvel Comics, you’d realize that all sentences end in an exclamation point! Life is exciting!
    (Almost all sentences, that is; who says this isn’t the Marvel Age of Punctuation?)

    • A friend of mine was a moderator on a site and in her queue was a long set of messages from two people having an argument. I got her to cut and paste into something that counted characters: 628 exclamation points.

    • dms says:

      Or Marvell!!!

    • wjts says:

      Not only should strongly-written sentences end with eye-catching exclamation points, they should also contain copious cases of attention-grabbing and awe-inspiring alliteration!

    • N__B says:

      …must…warn…others…

    • John Revolta says:

      If you grew up on L’il Abner, you’d realize that all sentences end in TWO exclamation points!!

    • Well, apparently for a long time the standard in the funny pages (as well as comic books) was not to use periods, as they tended to get lost at/by/with the printer/printing process.

      I used to edit a weekly email written by my boss advertising the week’s wine tastings and whatever at the little shop where I worked. The first thing I always did was to remove most of the exclamation points…especially those used multiply to end a single sentence.

  22. Djur says:

    As an honest answer: I’ve found the dreaded :) creeping into emails with colleagues and texts with friends for exactly this purpose. Clients and suits still get !, but saying “Thanks for your help with this!” to someone who sits next to you seems fakey. “Thanks for your help with this :)” seems more genuine for some impenetrable reason.

  23. kgus says:

    How about !? Or maybe not?

  24. ChrisTS says:

    At 3:27 AM, methinks Paul’s friend ought to have better things to worry about. Perhaps it will all seem different post sunrise.

  25. ichininosan says:

    The Japanese “ne” performs the function of “isn’t that so?” “what about that?” “don’t you agree?”

    Forget about the lowly period or exclamation point, Japanese has given us an entire punctuation language in emoji ;-) desuyo

  26. AcademicLurker says:

    Nothing conveys sincerity like ALL CAPS!

  27. Shakezula says:

    Consider that the ! is the victim of overuse. If you removed 90% of !s from the atmosphere, there would be no impact on meaning and we’d all be happier.

    Perhaps slightly off topic: I had two Brit friends who used the ? where one would expect an ! and they also used the !. I never asked because it seemed rude. But now I wonder if the ? was the softer ! that you’re looking for.

    • N__B says:

      Softer, limper…it’s all the same.

    • Dave says:

      Ah, the classic observation of the rising interrogative tone? Where each sentence sounds like a question? And you don’t really know if they’ve caught it from an Australian? Or it’s something deeply symbolic of loss of certitude in contemporary verbal discourse?

      • Shakezula says:

        No, it was being used as an exclamation point of sorts. And I’ve yet to see people who toss question marks at the end of every sentence when they speak (not the case here), add them to their writing.

  28. rea says:

    “Plaintiff therefore respectfully requests that the Court enter and order denying defendant’s Motion for Summary Disposition and awarding plaitniff costs, including reasonable attorney fees, pursuant to MCR 2.114(E). ;)”

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