If you’re a female from Texas, you’re familiar with this audio display. Two or more women, with voices in a normal range, greet each other. As they continue their exchanges, their voices simultaneously become higher- and higher-pitched, rising to a squawk. Octaves are skipped till their voices aren’t even recognizable.
This is all fine for the casual observer — amusing, as a matter of fact. How high will they go? Do they realize how they sound?
But if you’re, say, one of the Texas or Southern females greeting another Texas or Southern female, you’ve got a far tougher job. How on earth do you keep your voice on its normal level when your friend’s is rising so precipitously? There’s something contagious about the octave-hopping, something almost churlish about refusing to be a part of it — even though you don’t want to do it and you hate the way you sound. Voices that are soft and low, an excellent thing in a woman, have rarely been observed in a gathering of two or more Texas women.
Similarly, try — then keep trying, since it’s impossible, and it’s going to kill you if you do it — try to resist using exclamation marks at the same rate your correspondents do. It’s deadly, it’s contagious, it has to be resisted in every sentence.
I mean, I have a certain amount of self-control. I have never, God help me, voluntarily used an emoticon in my life. (Occasionally, WordPress substitutes a yellow happy face for the number 8 in one of my lists and I’ve tried to remove or change it, but it never works. So, it remains, and I know my friend Duchess will invariably remark on it, since she knows how much it irritates me.)
“If you don’t use emoticons, then people might misunderstand you,” a younger friend once told me. “They’ll think you’re serious when you’re joking.”
“Really? I don’t give a shit,” I said. Thinking, I’d rather be misunderstood every day of my life than use a fucking emoticon.
Exclamation marks are more insidious, though. They’re like voices rising in pitch — a little at a time, like boiling a frog. What’s wrong with a little higher pitch, a little warmer water, one lousy exclamation mark now and then? Then, the next thing you know, you’re talking in falsetto, the frog is dead, and you’re incapable of writing a sentence, no matter how ordinary or boring, without a stream of exclamation marks.
But, again, it’s catching!!! Everybody but you is writing with multiple exclamation marks! What’s wrong with you?!! Do you need Geritol or something?! What happened to your oomph?!!!
Good lord. Just seeing all those exclamation marks — however ironic — streaming from my laptop is more exhausting than being around somebody who’s terminally perky all the time. Like being at a cheerleading camp. Like being in an audience when the person on stage asks how everybody’s doing and you’re supposed to roar “FINE!!!” back with loud enthusiasm. Like giving somebody a standing ovation for just showing up.
Resist the irresistible, I tell myself. I say that in a low voice and, even though I feel quite strongly about it, you will notice I ended that sentence with a period.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about how it’s nobody’s business what I wear on Fridays