Monday, May 6, 2013

Twitter, She Wrote!

As I become more adept at Twitter--at least I think I'm becoming so--I find myself more curious about its properties, its qualities, its vagaries.  I suppose this is the way it is with any new skill: once one masters it to a sufficient extent, some of the energy that was previously expended on the brute act of doing can be diverted into reflection about the doing.

And so I find myself pondering the widespread use among tweeters of a punctuation mark most writers eschew: the exclamation point.

I use exclamation points all the time in my tweets.  So do lots of others.  They're everywhere!

But, like most writers, I use them sparingly in my other forms of writing (including this blog).  In fifteen years of academic writing, I'd be surprised if I used a single exclamation point.  In fiction, I do use them occasionally, though exclusively in quoted dialogue; somehow, the words "Watch out.  A monster is about to eat your face." just don't cut it.

However, I've been taught--and I tend to agree--that over-use of exclamation points is a crutch, a way of manufacturing apparent excitement when the writing itself isn't particularly exciting.  This is the only thing I find problematic about J. K. Rowling's otherwise excellent prose; when you've got dialogue like "'YOU KILLED MY PARENTS, YOU EVIL SNAKE-MONGER!!!!' Harry yelled loudly," you begin to feel the lady doth protest too much.

But okay, if we're so exclamation-point averse in our other writing, why are we so exclamation-point prone in Twitter?

Maybe it's because, constrained by the small size of each tweet, we're desperate for something to give our words punch.

Or maybe it's because we know we're competing with a feed containing thousands if not millions of comparably small, in-themselves-unexciting nuggets.  So we're clamoring to be heard above the racket.

Or maybe it's the relative anonymity of Twitter.  I'm beginning to develop some fun, playful, bantering kinds of relationships with the people I follow and/or who follow me, but still, these relationships are, by definition, mediated and thus not intimate.  So it's no biggie if I engage in exclamation-point-overkill; no one's going to hold it against me.

Or maybe, as a final suggestion, it's because tweeting, like so many of our forms of communication in this virtual age, possesses a certain unreality, a certain artifice, that we resort to the readiest (and stingiest) symbol of emphasis, the exclamation point.  Maybe, by ending every sentence with that familiar vertical-and-dot, what we're really saying is, "Look!  What I have to say is real!"

And if that's what we're doing, maybe we need to go back to the writing-advice manual and recall that we can't manufacture reality typographically.  It needs to be there in the first place.


  1. I generally have a problem with exclamationpointitis on Twitter. Lately I try not to use more than one per tweet. That's a big deal for me. :)

  2. You're better than I am--I usually end up with three or four, which is totally inexcusable in a 140-character tweet.