I imagine the Urban Dictionary is to lexicography what YouTube is to the film industry. To put it bluntly, there’s a lot of crap in there. But occasionally, a coinage that both serves a useful purpose and catches the imagination of the public can float to the top and find some purchase. One such word whose use seems to be on the rise is bangorrhea (bangorrhoea for British English speakers).
If you move past the definitions involving disgusting sexual disorders (which every UD entry has at least one of) and the culinary shortcomings of Bangor, Maine, you’ll find bangorrhea defined as “[the overuse of] exclamation points in a vain and failing attempt to make your writing sound more exciting.” At some point in our careers, all copy editors have to clean up someone else’s bangorrhea. And we complain about it, too. This handy word makes it easier to talk about.
The bang of bangorrhea comes from an alternative name for the exclamation point. A little research shows that this use of the word has appeared in typesetting manuals at least since the 1950s. Some believe that it ultimately comes from the world of comic books, where the BANG! of a firing gun was often indicated by a speech bubble with only an exclamation point in it. Regardless, it found a new life in computer programming, where ! is used, among other things, as a logical operator, and calling it a “bang” saves a lot of syllables over “exclamation point.”
And you’ll recognize this type of bang from the interrobang, the fringe but still viable combination of a question mark and exclamation mark whose invention is attributed, in 1962, to adman Martin K. Speckter.
The -rhea part of bangorrhea is co-opted from diarrhea. It comes from the Latin rhein, “to flow,” and it can be a fun ending for spur-of-the-moment neologisms.
Bangorrhea gets only 6,960 hits on Google right now, but I couldn’t find any before 2013. That’s pretty good for only three-and-a-half years. I’ve seen the word in two print books now, which may indicate that it’s gaining in use and acceptance.
Giving this annoying writing habit a succinct name is a big step toward eliminating it. I, for one, welcome it to our lexicon.