Multiple Exclamation Points: Tolerance Threshold Found
Enthusiastic writers occasionally use exclamation points. The most excitable writers sometimes use multiple exclamation points—for one sentence. Terry Pratchett calls this practice the sure sign of an insane mind.* A character in Pratchett’s Maskerade says, “All those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head.”
Without judging what a writer might wear on his or her head, clearheaded editors usually reduce the occurrence of exclamation points and almost always remove multiple points for a single sentence. The context and language of a piece should convey the appropriate level of excitement without the use of excess punctuation.
I’ve always been one of those clearheaded editors, intent on saving excitable writers from their own excessive punctuation. And for 99.9 percent of the cases, I’m still committed to that approach. Over the last couple of weeks, however, I’ve spent considerable time visiting a loved one in the ICU, where I've been surprised to discover that I have a threshold of tolerance for multiple exclamation points.
Authors and editors, if a sentence is as exclamatory and devoid of written contextual support as this one, you have my permission to let the exclamation points stand. If not, multiple exclamation points are inadvisable:
Although I resisted applying my editing pen in this instance, I have yet to experience a case in which I find random capitalization acceptable.
* The creator of this graphic likely agrees.
Image courtesy of Horia Varlan.