IN an essay published in 1895 called “How to Tell a Story,” Mark Twain chastised writers who use “whooping exclamation-points” that reveal them laughing at their own humor, “all of which is very depressing, and makes one want to renounce joking and lead a better life.”
One shudders to imagine what Twain would have made of e-mail.
Writing is by definition an imperfect medium for relaying the human voice. And in the age of electronic communication, when that voice is transmitted so often via e-mail and text message, many literate and articulate people find themselves justifying the exclamation point to convey emotion, enthusiasm or excitement. Some do so guiltily, as if on a slippery slope to smiley faces.
“I’ve degenerated to the point where I allow one per e-mail, but I don’t feel good about it,” said Alex Knight, a media and technology investor in Seattle. “If I use one, I will go back and delete the previous ones. It’s sort of ‘Sophie’s Choice.’ ”