We Need to Talk About Women and Their Use of the Exclamation Point

Through text, a lot can be missed in translation. Sarcasm can be interpreted as heartfelt sincerity, scorching satire can be read as glowing admiration, and profuse gratitude can come across as aloof nonchalance. The weapons to fight these misunderstandings are splayed out beneath our fingertips: emojis, the caps lock button and - perhaps the most effective tool at our disposal – punctuation.

With the coming of technology and the emphasized desire for clarity, our language has morphed. In the 1930s, writer F. Scott Fitzgerald said “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” If he were alive today, Fitzgerald would probably think our society has developed an affinity towards emphasizing our own hilarity.

Exclamation points have become a staple to our writing. The meaning of the punctuation, however, has seemed to transcend its original purpose. Rather than showing genuine excitement, shock, disgust, or horror, the mark is used to simply confirm the writer is not bored or angry.

The use of exclamation marks seems to be a universal phenomenon; however, Carol Waselesk published a study in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication which found women were far more likely to use exclamation points than men. In an observed online community of the 200 exclamation points used, 73% of them were used by women while only 27% of them were used by men. With the implication that exaggerated language in online communication serves as a way to bridge a communication gap, this statistic brings further insight into the prescribed role of women in society.

The exclamation point, however, does lack the intellectual seriousness of using a period according to a study detailed by James Geddes in Tech Times. The study done at Binghampton University found that periods in sentences do not have the same "heartfelt sincerity” as exclamation points do. Given this information, it makes sense that when speaking colloquially, exclamation points have a desirable affect. Women using more exclamation points than men conveys a sense of empathy. Possibly, the use shows that women write with the audience in mind, striving for a unity between sender and recipient. In turn, the use of punctuation creates a sense of community and support and enthusiasm for both the subject and the audience.

The imbalance between usage in regards to gender, however, leads to the question of whether women feel forced to use exclamation points as a way to substantiate their feelings. The statistics show women have an inherent pressure to verify their intentions. Without using exclamation points, there is a risk of coming across as bitter and pretentious. Using exclamation points, however, may cause the message to lose a sense of authority. This is particularly damaging when composing emails to future or present employers and professors. It is another way women must struggle to find a balance between being perceived as a b***h or a doormat before even meeting a person face-to-face.

So, do we send the email without the obligatory “Thank you!” or do we leave our level of enthusiasm up for interpretation?  Either way, we’re not laughing.

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