NY Times: Exclamation
One of the ways I notice I’m getting old is when I receive a text message from someone that is encoded in such horrific shorthand that I have to spend a minute or two determining its meaning. I’ve always enjoyed using language. I’m not particularly good with punctuation or semantics, but grammar just seemed to make sense: if you’re going to say it, say it right.
Language however, waits for no man, it is a living thing. Its evolving. While in this age of globalisation their isn’t the same regional or national disparity within a language, the pace of the evolution has increased markedly. What will the language I speak and write with in twenty years be like? What new words will have entered my vocabulary? What new methods of punctuating my message will exist?
A recent New York Times piece examined the evolution of the exclamation mark and how faceless communication such as texting has lead to ‘exclamation mark inflation’, the need to exaggerate the emotion behind the message because their are no cues beyond the words.
Ben Yagoda on Exclamation Marks:
For a piece of information delivered without prejudice, she said, you don’t need any punctuation at the end (“Movie starts at 6”). An exclamation point is minimally acceptable enthusiasm (“See you there!”). But a period just comes off as sarcastic (“Good job on the dishes.”).
I’ll be the first to admit that I place an inordinate emphasis on the words people say and write. While 90% of communication is meant to take place without words, I find myself focusing attention on the words themselves at the expense of other cues.
However when words themselves are changed, and when punctuation comes attached with layers of meaning and subtlety beyond the obvious, I find myself wondering if I won’t be left a little adrift in these changing times.
But then perhaps the beauty of communication is in how universal it is. It happens despite barriers and human failings, despite words and concepts meaning different things to different people. Perhaps the use of the period, comma, exclamation mark and ellipses will evolve as well, or perhaps it will be written language itself that dies a quiet death as technology puts it to rest.