Killing Me Softly With Exclamation Marks.

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

21 comments… add one
  • Alas, Ruth, I don’t think falsetto greeting rituals between women are peculiar to Texans. I come across it all the time, and it drives me absolutely nuts.
    I still cannot look at Hillary Clinton without remembering that awful, cringe-worthy moment, during the  1992 National Convention, when Clinton/Gore were confirmed as Democratic presidential candidates. Hillary and Tipper hugged each other … and then they began jumping up and down, emitting high pitched squeals. I nearly choked, I was so gob-smacked.

  • Winston Link

    Rejoice!  At least nobody’s killing you with hyperbole.  Those things smart, make  you swell and can ruin a perfectly even-keeled reputation.

  • Winston Link

    And as for that young whippersnapper who attempted to educate you on the use of emoticons, he or she is such a slacker.  If Jean Kerr were around today, do you think she would litter her manuscripts with emoticons out of fear of being misunderstood?  Nooo ma’am.  She’d just turn her head and sneer, “well let ’em eat daisies!”

  • Naturally I’m thinking about the Seinfeld episode where Elaine gets in trouble for editing Jake Jarmel’s manuscript and in doing so inserting exclamation points after every single sentence because the note he left her saying that someone had the baby was void of exclamation points. Too funny (couldn’t resist the punctuation) and here’s the link to that Seinfeld script

  • OK, you’ve done it now. I’m sitting in an Internet cafe in Palenque, Mexico, laughing like a lunatic and everyone is staring at me. No doubt wondering if they need to call the policia and have this crazy American gringa hauled away to the hoosgow. I too have found myself descending into exclamation point purgatory of late, yet despite the knowledge, sometimes I just can’t stop myself. I keep telling myself it’s not as bad (yet) as when I was a real estate agent and every listing was rife with claims of: “Excellent rental generation!” “Best location on the beach!!” and “Hurry, because at this price it won’t last long!!!!!!!!!” If it ever get’s that bad I’m going to call the looney van myself.
    And yes, the fact that I am leaving this comment means I have been able to get into your blog again.Interesting because I am using a different ISP, so maybe the Mexican aircard IP is on a blacklist. Will be interesting to see if I am still blocked when I use the aircard again.

  • This is funny. And oh, so true!
    I went to a girl party Sunday and everyone was all “Hi honey!!!!”

  • This is the comment I really wanted to leave:
    !! 😉
    But it ended up that I wanted to write a sentence or two instead. Emoticons are helpful for people who aren’t masters at self expression. Writers, on the other hand, can pull off a sarcastic sentence or black humor because that’s what we’re trained to do. And if we can’t do this, then we need more practice. Having people misunderstand us gives us that practice.
    I also don’t much like the exclamation point. But it does have its uses. Like when I am feeling blah, I sometimes add it to my email messages in order to make the sentences sound perky. Like this:
    Hi! Haven’t seen you in a while! Miss you!!
    In reality, if I said that out loud, I would sound like Eeyore. All monotone and such. I add the exclamation points to throw people off. But now I’ve announced this publicly, so you’ll all be onto me.
    I don’t like LOL either, mostly because people write it after every sentence, even sentences that are not funny. Like this: I’m writing this from the hospital. LOL! (What?!)

  • Cindy A Link

    You are an excellent writer, Ruth, and have the ability to come up with expressive words and concepts that do not need to be dressed up by an exclamation point.  It is my theory that bad writers use them so much because they know their actual writing will not excite anyone.  Or, maybe they really are experiencing multiple orgasms as they write…

  • I love it.  My husband’s family isn’t high pitched, but they speak with a very loud volume.  It used to freak me out.  Now I find myself doing it, too.
    I blame my exclamation points, emoticons, bold font and all caps on social media.  But really, the only excuse is that I’m a fool.

  • Oh, Ruth, how funny. It’s something that is so contagious, like a yawn  and I have to catch myself before I get hooked into it! You know what I mean, don’t you?! It’s absolutely crazy!!!
    On the other hand, those little emoticons (as much as I don’t like using them) do sometimes come in handy with email, since so much gets lost in the translation at times.

  • Laugh out loud funny. I hope I haven’t woken my sleeping warrior in the back bedroom. Low and melodious laughing, of course. Nothing squeaky or undignified.

  • I’ve always thought the shrill high voices sound like high school girls. I’m not an “OMG!” high-voiced kind of gal at all and don’t know too many people who are either. Maybe I’m weird?

  • Great post!  I enjoyed it!!  Made me laugh!!!

  • My girls aren’t from Texas but they seem to suffer from the same high-pitched need to grow ever higher.
    And I must admit, I do add the occasional! and 🙂

  • I don’t know who is funnier, you (Ruth) or Melanie. I hate emoticons too. Even the word makes me cringe. (And I was tempted to add an exclamation point to that sentence but you’ll notice that I did not.)

  • Oh, Ruth. Again, you crack me up.

  • Emoticons are hideous and I’m not a fan of all those exclamation points that have made their way into online writing.
    I must confess to slipping in the occasional 🙂 or 😉 in emails, as sometimes I think humor can get lost in translation via cyberspace. But I know that’s lame, I could just write (just joking).
    See, this stuff is insidious!!!

  • Eek. Those curves and dots on email show up as evil emoticons on your blog!!! So sorry!!!!

  • I’m a southern gal so I get matching one high-squealed pitch with another. Loved this post, Ruth. You are so funny!!!!!!!!! The number of exclamation points exactly matches the email message I received this morning on “add 10” to your member!!!!!!!!!!

  • You’ve just explained my Texas self to my born-and-raised Boston self–thank yew so much! I live in Boulder now, and long to hear “Cute shoes, have you lost weight, love the hair!!!”

  • Carolyn Page Link

    Texas, Boston, Boulder, Mexico – and you had me laughing here in Australia. Your commenters are great too.

Leave a Comment