On Exclamation Points!!!!
June 21, 2022
We have a confession to make.
We kind of agonize about our use of exclamation points in our professional writing.
Our personal correspondence (emails, texts, etc.) are emoji explosions, and most sentences end with an exclamation point, unless the topic is somber, intensely logistical, or we’re mad 😂
We tone it waaaaay down in the writing we do for Carterhaugh.
To an extent, this is good and normal. There are different ways to write – different registers – that we all learn how to navigate for different occasions. While the two of us are completely capable of conducting a conversation with each other entirely in emoji [👯, 🍤, ✨… all of these are imbued with profound meaning for us], it would be bizarre and kind of hostile to subject our electricians or doctors to the same thing. Part of our job at OSU back when we taught college courses was to teach our students about writing conventions, like what kinds of structures and language might work best for an academic argument… and also that starting an email to a professor or even a possible future employer they’ve never met with a “hey” or “sup” might not go over great.
So yeah, different ways of writing for different audiences. Sure. We get this and have taught this.
The thing is, these conventions didn’t form in a vacuum. Our cultural preference for “standard English” can get especially nightmarish when it overlaps with issues of race, accent, and nationality.
And, of course, it can have ramifications for gender, too.
We spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of language and tone is seen as “professional” or “serious.” Or, to put a finer point on it, what kind of writing is taken “seriously?”
If you’ve been around Carterhaugh for a long time (we had our first tiny pilot course all the way back in 2016!), you might have noticed that the tone of our writing has shifted. We’ve gone from fairly Standard Academic Professional language to pretty conversational. We’ve made the choice to write more like how we sound when we’re teaching.
This was actually pretty scary for us! For most of our adult lives, we were in hardcore academia mode. And academic writing tends to be, among other things, clinical, jargon-heavy, and, most importantly, unemotional. As relatively young women in academia, we often felt like we needed to work extra hard to fit this model or risk being seen as less-than.
You can bet that our dissertations did not have a lot of exclamation points in them.
But the thing is… we like exclamation points! We can practically hear them at the end of our spoken sentences, and we like using them to convey our enthusiasm! They aren’t hurting anyone, and they make us happy!!!
And yet, we still go through every email newsletter and email response and website copy draft to edit them out, or at least way down. Because we worry that they’ll make us sound overenthusiastic, flighty, excitable, emotional. We worry that it looks too girly on the page.
And even though language conventions are socially constructed – there’s no definitive reason that exclamation points are coded as feminine and emotional – there are still real repercussions for how you talk and how you write.
So, when you see exclamation points in our writing, now you’ll know that they’re our very deliberate choice. They’re there to tell you how flipping excited we are about folklore and fairy tales. And how thrilled we are that you’re here with us, a part of the nerdery and the enchantment, too.