Tragically Exclamatory!!!!!

Punctuation Pyramid
Image by tgbarrett via Flickr
My pseudonym is M. Jaynes and I have a problem!

I’ve pontificated on punctuation previously. My sojourn into the comma conundrum was cathartic. This time, it is my over-use of the exclamation point in casual correspondence that has become increasingly disturbing to me. Oh, it started innocently enough. I joined Facebook and it seemed the “in” punctuation to use. So I picked up the habit and ran with it. Not an e-mail escaped the send button without an unhealthy dose of the emotionally overcharged “Thank you!” or “Good Morning!” Salutations should be heart-felt, but rarely is there a situation where the addition of six or seven exclamation points is called for. And it didn’t stop there. In my fevered brain it made perfect sense to add dramatic punctuation to such sentences as: “I have a trivial meeting after school today!” or in notes to far away friends, “I miss you!!!!!!”
Now, every time I write “thank you” without an exclamation point, I worry that the person receiving the message will think that my sentiments are lukewarm. Maybe it is my OCD brain that has caused this to become an issue but I swear nowadays when I write an e-mail it is so peppered with that infernal mark that I feel like a raving lunatic!
Addicts always try to blame others first, so here goes: I blame Facebook for initiating this habit. Prior to signing up, I hardly ever used that form of punctuation, even when I felt strongly about something. I was blissfully unaware of my issue while on Facebook because it seemed everyone else was on board with being exclamatory. Since bidding a not-so-fond farewell to that particular social networking scene, it has slowly dawned on me that I have a problem with this punctuation. Right now as I type this it is all I can do not to add a few more in here and there. And as one who loves books, I am quite certain that if I came across a novel that used exclamation points as frivolously as I have, I would think the author mad and discontinue reading. I need help! It is driving me crazy! I suppose it could be worse. Instead of exclamatory, I could be interrogative. How would that go over I wonder? Do I really want to open that can of worms? Should I end this blog here?

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My Comma, My Problem

Something happened when I turned thirty-six. No, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream didn’t immediately show up on my thighs ten minutes after I ate it. That happened when I turned thirty (and I’m still a little upset about it). For some inexplicable reason, during my thirty-sixth year comma usage became an enigma. As an English teacher, this is a huge problem! One day I could write a blog such as this and have commas placed perfectly throughout. The next day I had a run-on the size and incomprehensibility the likes of which you have never seen! It is like the comma disappeared from my radar or something. Oh I will throw one in here and there to make it look good but I am missing some pretty important commas in my writing these days and it is beginning to worry me.

It raises several questions: Why did this happen? Have I gotten so wrapped up in this instant-gratification, fast-food-drive-through-service, sixty-five-on-the-highway, text-in-an-instant, follow-me-on-twitter society that I now unconsciously skip over anything that might give me pause? Is it just me or do others suffer from this as well? As a society, do we have our cross-hairs set on this small, useful form of punctuation because the rules for its use keep changing on us? Is it possible for a society to kill off a form of punctuation much like a horror movie monster slays the buxom blonde in high heels? Will other punctuation become a problem as I get older? All of a sudden, when I hit forty will the question mark lose its purpose?

I don’t know if the problem is my own or just a reflection of a much larger societal issue. But doesn’t it always seem to start with the small stuff? Lose the comma, lose our ability to slow down and enjoy the little things. Is something so insignificant capable of becoming so significant it could change the way a group of people thinks? Or maybe I just need a good grammar refresher course.