Tag Archives: exclamation point

Panic attack

Mark Twain was known to have said, “Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it.”

As Hurricane Irene barrels toward the United States, the weather is all anyone is talking about. Someone, do something.

Usually, The Weather Channel is fairly tempered in its wording. Forecasters take such flak for both underestimating and over-hyping conditions that they must walk a fine line between issuing timely alerts and not inciting panic, even when conditions are urgent. By necessity, they choose their words cautiously.

In all the years I’ve followed The Weather Channel on weather.com, however, I’ve never read such strong language as I have these last 24 hours:

“extraordinary impacts”
“very dangerous”
“serious and multi-hazard threat”
“rare potency”
“particularly threatening situation”
“dire threat”

They’ve even created a new threat level category: EXTREME. All caps.

In fact, the site is using ALL CAPS and exclamation points all over the place! As drama goes, that’s the punctuation equivalent of Al Roker twisting in the wind.

Meteorologists caution that Irene will impose severe conditions on the major metropolitan areas of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including Norfolk, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford and Boston. “This hurricane has the potential to produce flooding rains, high winds, downed trees (on houses, cars, power lines) and widespread power outages,” the site warns.

One troubling aspect of this looming disaster is that, not only must East-coasters prepare for damage and loss, but we also have to brace ourselves for ridicule from the rest of the country. California is still snickering over our little 5.8 earthquake, while red state residents are blanketing Facebook and Twitter with stupid quake jokes about policymakers.

I seriously hope Irene has a change of heart and a change of direction. No one would look forward to singing “Goodnight Irene” more than beach dwellers and East Coast city folk. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to dash out for an emergency supply of Perrier and camembert.

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A sign from above

I received an e-mail reminder last week of the coming of National Punctuation Day. As soon as there’s a nip in the air, I start planning a celebration and contemplating the meaning of these literary symbols in our lives.

Of all my punctuation peeves, one near the top is overuse of the exclamation point. I believe this should be reserved for special occasions, for exclamations or situations that are truly remarkable.

Example? How about galaxies colliding?

According to NASA, two galaxies–VV 340 North, and VV 340 South—have begun to come together.

Because it’s 450 million light years from here, we can’t see it with the naked eye. Thanks to the Chandra x-ray observatory, this collision is revealed. In punctuation.

That’s truly remarkable!

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Onomatopoeic punctuation

There is someone in our family who ends sentences with punctuation–when he speaks.

As in “How are you doing, question mark?” This is an affectation among many this person has; in this case, perhaps to be clever or maybe just for emphasis. I tried to stop questioning it long ago, but every now and then, along comes the whiplash-inducing oral punctuation.

In grade school, we learned to express punctuation with the tones of our voices. We end questions a little higher on the tonal scale. We raise our voices as we approach an exclamation point. But in and of itself, punctuation has no sound.

I suspect there are a number of readers out there who are fans of the late Victor Borge, the renowned Danish pianist, conductor and comedian. He died in 2000, so I’d encourage younger readers in whose childhood homes Borge wasn’t required viewing to take a look at his work. Pure brilliance.

I likely saw this routine at some point in my life, but it didn’t strike me quite so vividly as it did over the weekend, when my cousin–under 25, I might add, and a fellow wordie–shared it on Facebook.

Please enjoy it and think of Mr. Borge whenever you punctuate. How fun would it be if punctuation always came alive this way?

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Holy @#$%*!

I thought today we would give a shout out to some of our friends on the second row of the computer keyboard.

Symbols seem to be used more and more, as we abbreviate in our instant messaging. Please allow me to indulge in a little review of symbols and how they are used—and often, misused–in writing.

!  The exclamation point is especially effective in writing dialogue—as in “Holy backslash, Batman!” Unfortunately, the exclamation point has become overused in most other types of writing, including e-mail; in fact, placing one in the subject line can land an e-mail in the recipient’s spam folder. Exclamation points are generally inappropriate in plain text and especially in business correspondence. If the sender is emotional enough to type an exclamation point, he or she would be wise to calm down before submitting anything. 

@  Today we use the “at” sign most commonly in e-mail addresses. Before the Internet, though, it was created as a symbol for “at the rate of,” such as 10 apples @ 10 cents each = $1.  The “at” symbol is permissible in instant messaging, but please don’t ask “where R U @?”

$  The dollar sign is used in tables and in text preceding a dollar value. In text, there is no need to also type the word “dollar” if you have used the symbol. It’s either/or.  For example, “if I had $1 million” or “if I had a million dollars.”

&  Use of the ampersand (please, it’s not “ampersign”) bears some attention here, as it has gotten out of control. The ampersand is commonly reserved for one purpose:  when it is part of a company’s formal name, such as Procter & Gamble or Barnes & Noble. Style authorities point out that ampersands may sometimes be used in citations, typically, bibliographies or statute citations. Occasionally we’ll see one in a movie or magazine title or product name (e.g., Kraft Macaroni & Cheese). Just remember – the ampersand should never be used in lieu of “and,” especially in a sentence, or even in bullet points. It might seem an easy way to save space but your readers will think it looks cheesy. Because it is.

%  Another symbol run wild is the percent (one word) sign. The percent symbol is only used in tables, not in text. If you are writing and using the word “percent,” use the word “percent.” The same goes for “greater than” and “less than,” whose symbols are also reserved for mathematical notation. As with practically everything in English, there are exceptions. For example, the percent symbol is sometimes permitted in certain scientific text. The American Medical Association Manual of Style permits either the word or the symbol, noting that, in the composition of a drug, the symbol is used: “containing 0.42% hydroxyethylcellulose and 1.67% povidone.” 

*  In my mind, the most important point is this: asterisk is pronounced just like it looks, as-ter-isk, not asterick or astrick. If this is hard for you, take it apart – the last syllable is risk. Just remember, if you use an asterisk to refer to something, it must have a mate somewhere on the page—typically at the bottom—or in the section. The symbol is also a star, as in, “press star on your telephone keypad.”

Incidentally, while we are talking about pressing star, isn’t it about time we stop instructing callers to “dial” zero for assistance? If anyone is indeed dialing anymore, dialing star probably won’t to do anything except maybe break a nail.

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