An open letter to the person in charge of new punctuation:
I have invented a new punctuation mark, and I am writing to ask you to consider introducing its usage into the American Punctuation Lexicon.
I would also like to check up on the status of the interrobang (also known as the quesclamation mark). You may not remember it, but it was the combination exclamation point/question mark invented by ad executive Martin Spekter to help us with such sentences as “WHAT did you just say to me?!” and “Lindsay Lohan’s suing WHO?! Over WHAT?!”
The fact that it was invented in 1962 and you’re still considering it doesn’t give me much hope for it, or for that matter, for the Irony Mark, or “Snark,” – the backwards question mark that some are hoping can indicate sarcasm in our increasingly digital world. I think it sounds like a great idea. Whoever thought of it is a genius.
But onto my idea. Get ready for it: The Friendly Period (exclamation point!)
Sorry. What I meant was, the friendly period! Period.
Am I talking about an era of increased kindness? No. A new, more pleasant brand of menses? No. (We already swim, ride horses on the beach and run through fields of daisies – how much more pleasant can menstruation get?)
No, I’m talking about a period that says, “That sentence, the one right before me, is as affable as they come. That sentence, in fact, wants to buy you a beer.”
Here’s the problem: increasingly, we’re using very cold, technological ways to communicate. No one wants to actually go through the long, drawn-out process saying hello and how are you on the phone, or, god forbid, having to see someone in person. There are germs in every handshake, and people get bad haircuts that you have to lie about. So emails and texts have become, for many, our primary means of communication. But reading something on a screen makes everything colder, so we try to warm up our communications with annoying emoticons, or, in my case, the gratuitous exclamation point.
In a study entitled “Gender and the Use of Exclamation Points in Computer Mediated Communication,” (for reals!) Carol Waseleski (exclamation point!) deciphered that woman 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.
I used to abhor exclamation points, largely because I am not a perky person. I am a person who assumes a day is going to blow until the world convinces me otherwise in the first five minutes by handing me a 16-ounce skim half-caf mocha in bed, which never happens, so you do the math.
So you can imagine my increased usage of exclamation points is extremely disconcerting both for me and for those who are forced to endure my emails and texts.
A sample sentence from a recent email:
“Yay! Dinner at McFuddernutters sounds great!”
In this case, the exclamation points are preventive. Because the person receiving the email knows that I can be a sarcastic bitch, periods would have made it read:
“Yay. Dinner at McFuddernutters sounds great. I just hope their neverending salad bowl will fill the bottomless pit of despair I feel because I’m sitting in an establishment called McFuddernutters.”
Now, what you might say is, “Hey, why don’t you stop being a sarcastic bitch (interrobang?)” Good exclamated question. Answer: because I don’t want to, friendly period!
The friendly period is here to solve all our communication problems.
Picture this: a larger, slightly squished period that’s big enough to see that there’s a half-moon of a smile three quarters of the way down its jolly round body. It’s simple, it’s not nearly as annoying as those bright yellow happy faces, and it’s stylish. Because what’s more stylish than black and white? Nothing, stupid. (Friendly period!)
I implore you, punctuation person…don’t make us wait 48 years for the friendly period to take off (friendly period.) We need help now in getting rid of the scourge of gratuitous exclamation points, and I, for one, would have significantly less punctuation shame in my life.
Please get back to me at your earliest convenience (friendly period.) Our future depends on it (irony mark.)