Prices are eternally on the rise. Ten years ago, a loaf of bread may have cost $1.50; Today it costs $2.20; in ten years time it will probably cost $3.00. House prices are rising too — probably faster than bread. And don’t even mention oil.… But things aren’t too bad, really, because while I might not be able to get a carton of eggs for a shilling any more, at least I am paid more than £94 a year. I don’t know exactly why prices (and wages) are inexorably on the rise, because I don’t start studying economics until next year; but one thing that (I think) I realise is that inflation is not necessarily the value of goods increasing, it’s more often the value of money decreasing.
Today, though, I don’t want to talk about monetary inflation (any more than I already have), I want to talk about the increased use of exclamatory punctuation in writing. In the past, when you wanted to express that something was exciting, amazing, or simply very joyful, you put an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence: “I must tell thee, that today my dear sister Elizabeth arrived!”. (at least that’s how I imagine people used them, although since I am what hithere298 calls a “00’s kid”, my memory doesn’t go that far back). Today though, you very often see at least two exclamation marks: “liz flew in today!!”. Some people might even capitalise it: “LIZ JUST GOT HERE!!”.
Indeed, if you want to see a lot of exclamation marks (or a lot of Capital Letters), take look at the live comments on any AFL match. I sometimes wonder whether “GOOOOO BULLDOGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” is more merit-worthy than a more humble, “Go Bulldogs!” — because you see both. Neither seems to me very profound: I mean it is rather obvious that there are going to be a lot of Bulldogs fans out there, so why do people have to clog up the chat thing with generic comments? Surely they could think of something more educated to say? But at any rate, even if it doesn’t have any other virtues, surely this growth in the use of exclamation marks means that the world has become a more exciting place?
Actually… I don’t think so. I mean, it is possible that the world has become a more exciting place: more bestselling books are coming out each year, each Olympics is bigger and better than the one before, roller-coasters have been invented…. But I don’t think the increase in exclamation marks is because there is more excitement: I think it’s because exclamation marks are losing value. Just like when, in Zimbabwe, they started printing far too many bank-notes and a hyper-inflation started, people have now started using multiple punctuation marks for emphasis, and now we’re are going into an exclamatory hyper-inflation.
Today, most people writing short pieces, such as comments, online, end about three quarters of their sentences in an exclamation mark. Most of the other quarter end in ellipses or question marks. They do this to makes sure that they don’t sound disinterested or half-hearted; with punctuation cheap, they don’t need to worry about sounding overly zealous. And when I say “people” and “they”, I am probably one of these people.
There are occasional people who don’t end 75% of their sentences in exclamation marks, however. Liam, Head Phil, is an example of a person, I’ve noticed, who goes rather under-par. But he gets away with this without appearing disinterested or half-hearted. So perhaps it doesn’t matter whether you put an exclamation mark at the end of all your sentences, or only the ones you feel strongly about. Maybe you just need to be consistent, and then your readers will adjust to your stronger currency.
In which case, why bother using a lot of exclamation marks? You can’t control how exciting a fact is by how well you sign-post it. If you try to do that too much, your punctuational currency will simply lose value. So basically you can do what you like, you just need to be consistent. But personally I think I will try for a stronger currency: it is tiring to be eternally excited about nothing.
If what I’ve just written sounds like a load of rubbish, it probably is.