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The 3-Exclamation-Marks Texter: The Subconscious Ways We Communicate Online

Edited By: Zenya Siyad

Texting habits are strange. We all have our unique styles and conventions, depending on who we’re texting. Notwithstanding, there’s a certain set of norms most of us adhere to from time to time because they make us seem more genuine and approachable. Conforming to these norms has this subtle power because it makes you look like you’re a part of the team and depicts your willingness to adapt to the standard.

Here are a few things we all do subconsciously when we text:

  1. Exclamation Marks!

Every email I’ve sent since coming to college has had an (un)intentional exclamation mark worked into it. Be it to a professor requesting an excused absence — ‘I’m really sick (of waking up at 7:30 AM for this specific lecture) and I can’t make it to class. Thank you for understanding!’— or to the admin — “I still haven’t gotten a reply even though it’s been four years and a week. Hoping for a speedy response!” — or to my team for a group project — “I couldn’t possibly drag myself out of bed for another group meeting. I’m really sorry!”. There’s always an exclamation mark. And it isn’t just confined to emails. The pandemic of exclamation marks has crept into text messages. What was once used for emphasis, for that extra oomph! has now evolved into a symbolic representation of sincerity and enthusiasm. And it works.

Exclamation marks are rarely used in writing. I’ve come across a hundred books that haven’t used a single exclamation mark, let alone two or ten. It nags at me now: what is it about texts and emails that compels me to attach an exclamation mark after every third line? Why end a sentence with an exclamation mark when it is perfectly fine, logically and grammatically, to clinch it with a full stop? It all boils down to tone. It is near impossible to say how a person might read what seems to you like a sincere expression of emotion. No sentence ending with a full stop will ever express genuine concern like “I hope you feel better soon!” Indeed, a “Thank you.” doesn’t scream gratitude like a “Thank you!” does. 

It’s not just about conveying sincerity though. Exclamation marks are symbols of enthusiasm in the texting world. Guilty as charged; I use a gazillion (at least three, maybe four) exclamation marks through text to show how much I agree with a particular statement. Sometimes, I don’t even use words, just the punctuation. Even a single exclamation mark suffices. Exclamation marks somehow manage to communicate genuine excitement in ways that words never can. My guess is that it probably relates to the experience of being so overwhelmed with exhilaration, you’re at a loss for words. Exclamation marks used in this manner seem to be the equivalent of practically buzzing with excitement. 

  1. Drawing out syllables

Stretching out words by repeating a letter (usually a vowel) multiple times is fairly common. An “okaaay” feels so much more fun and lighthearted than a simple “okay”. I use “thank youuu” especially in informal texts to communicate genuine appreciation. A “wooow” is a much more extravagant expression of amazement than a “wow” can ever be. Context matters though. On one hand, drawing out a syllable can be used to set a playful tone. On the other hand, it’s also used when you want to abruptly end an argument that you know you won (in your head) but the other person is never going to accept. Sometimes, you may use a sly “okaaayyy” to indicate you don’t really believe the other person but you might just let it go. See? Tone matters. Texting is complicated.

  1. LOLs and laughing emojis

So, I’m typing a text that has a teeny, tiny potential to offend. It’s not looking good. I quickly type a “lol” or add a laughing emoji at the end and voila! My text is no longer potentially offensive. Using a “lol” or an emoji is like the online text version of that nervous laugh you do after you’ve said something serious that you only realize later is likely to destroy the mood or even a relationship or two. “I don’t really feel good about you ignoring me lol” is either a plea to move on from this thing I said when I was clearly not in my right mind or a scathing remark I was too anxious to send without punctuating it with a “lol” or a laughing emoji to lighten the mood. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the other person going to understand which category it falls under though, *shrug*.

  1. lowercase text

Texting in all lowercase never gets old. It feels friendlier than using capital letters at the start of each sentence like a boring boomer (just kidding! — see what I did there? *wink*). The stakes of the conversation are much lower when you’re texting in all lowercase which creates an easygoing atmosphere. It feels more honest, akin to a drabble of unfiltered thoughts. It signifies a kind of familiarity where certain boundaries are lowered to appear more casual. Consistency is key when using lowercase text, though. Inconsistency in using lowercase text can feel like you’re forcing a casual conversation. i don’t know how i can tell, it’s just instinctual. you know what i mean?

  1. ALL CAPS

ALL CAPS IS A FUN WAY TO CONVEY YOUR VERY INTENSE EMOTIONS, be it excitement, happiness, or even frustration. Cue Raymond Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine reading a tweet loudly because he very adorably assumes ALL CAPS is a sign to physically start yelling the text. It’s not, but it’s really funny regardless (Season 5, Episode 18!!!) Texting in ALL CAPS is more of a non-verbal yell than anything. It’s much like using exclamation marks to emphasize your enthusiasm. Sometimes, even a few typos in your ALL CAPS text can be forgiven because of its enthusiastic underpinnings. 

  1. No punctuation.

Using punctuations such as full stops, commas, and semi-colons (why, oh why?) while texting is probably going to make you look stuck-up and uptight. If you want to seem approachable through text, zero punctuation is the way to go. A full stop at the end of a sentence feels curt and dismissive. Texting “I understand.” to a friend’s concern isn’t really going to make them feel like you do understand as much as it feels like you’d like them to stop talking. You probably didn’t intend it but simply avoiding the use of full stops in texts can save you a truckload of trouble.

Rhea Thomson

Ashoka '21

That one person who just made the cut. Also an aspiring psychologist.
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