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We Tried To Stop Using Exclamation Points And It Was So Hard!

Many compensatory smiley faces ahead :)

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Many women love to use exclamation points, and it’s not because we’re all SPEAKING AT A LOUD VOLUME!!!

According to the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, women use the exclamation point way more frequently than men do, but we do it for good reasons — mainly to convey friendliness and emphasize statements of fact. Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, reiterated this idea when she told the Huffington Post:

"[Exclamations] no longer necessarily show emphasis, because for many women, they are the most common, or neutral, way of ending sentences. Leaving them out indicates negative intentions, while including them simply shows an expected level of enthusiasm."

In other words, leaving exclamation marks out makes us feel like ice-cold bitches, and don't even get us started on using a period instead.

In order to examine our own feminine proclivities for the exclamation mark, we decided to go three long days without them. We became a horde of ice-cold bitches.

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THE RULES

No exclamation points for 72 hours. Period. Not in emails, texts, Gchat, or other forms of written communication.

We agreed that if our significant others, after reading a number of our ice-cold communiqués, asked us, "Are you mad at me?" we were allowed to tell them (and only them) about the challenge. We weren't looking to end anyone's relationship.

We also agreed to tally the number of exclamation points accidentally used in the three-day test period.

And...we all failed. Here are the exclamation point ban violators, in order of smallest failure to biggest.

JOANNA

Joanna Borns

Number of exclamation points accidentally used: 7

Not using exclamation points made me a worse person immediately. Expressing enthusiasm in ~other ways~ made me look unhinged. I couldn’t use exclamations but I could use a beautiful display of asterisks and tildes, which is arguably much worse.

Twitter: @robotics

I happened to receive a lot of compliments during the no-exclamation-point period, and I was forced to say things like “Thank youuuu” or “THANK YOU.” Saying “Thank you.” with a period sounds angry. Complimenting other people felt impossible. “Nice work.” “That looks lovely.” The period makes every nice thing sound sarcastic.

After 24 hours I was desperate for exclamation points. I saw a really cute video of a baby goat and I couldn’t even express my enthusiasm.

I even KNEW Katie was doing the experiment, too, and when she sent me an email that said, “Sounds good. Thank you.” it still hurt my feelings a little. “Thank you.” with a period is like saying, “I don’t care if you live or die.”

A few years ago, when unnecessary exclamations became a hot topic (“Why are we all screaming in our emails?”), I started editing myself. Even before this experiment, I regularly scanned work emails for exclamation points and thought, Will it sound mean if I don’t use this? If the answer was no, I took it out. I was afraid of looking unprofessional or like a doormat. As a woman, you’re expected to always be nice and pleasant, but if you’re too pleasant or too enthusiastic, you won’t be taken seriously. You have to use exclamation points, but you can’t use too many.

Trying not to use any exclamation points reminded me that I already police my own language, and policing it even more felt awful. Once the experiment was over, I thought I would go bonkers using exclamation points. But I didn’t. I still respect them as a tool of language with a purpose. Except when I see a tiny baby goat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SARAH

Sarah Burton

Number of exclamation points accidentally used: approx. 17

In the first few hours, I did a good job not using exclamation points. Almost too good. I quickly grew concerned that nobody even noticed my lack of exclamation points because I was already a notoriously steely ice witch. I even prodded my boyfriend over Gchat to see if he could guess what was different in my communication online. His response: “You don’t seem to be misspelling as much?”

That was probably true, because I was paying a lot of attention to what I was typing. But I’m a writer, goddammit, and he thinks of me as a poor speller? This experiment was already taking a turn toward the depressing.

Then, at 1:58 pm on the first day, I made my first mistake in Slack:

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Sarah Burton

Apologies are VERY hard when you can’t exclaim them. I also slipped and added an exclamation point to a criticism because I didn’t want to sound too condescending.

As the day went on, I found an admirable workaround — I simply typed capital letters instead of using an exclamation point. Again, like an exclamation point, capitals are traditionally used to show loud volume. But, given the context, I believe capitals conveyed my meaning.

I ran into more issues when I had to send out a bunch of introductory emails. At first I wrote them without the exclamation points, and then I went back and put them in. That’s right, I cheated on purpose! DEAL WITH IT!!!

Finally, someone wrote to a group of us asking if we’d stolen money and I immediately replied, “Not me!” I stand by that. If I had used a period it would have been very suspicious. I’m not trying to get on Season 2 of Making a Murderer.

Twitter: @AriannaRebolini

To be clear, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with them, especially when they feel true to your soul. Like, if you're a person who feels like you're constantly thinking in exclamation points, then why not communicate that in your writing? Exclamation points can pose a few problems, though: 1) the fact that no one else lives in your mind, and therefore you are opening your exclamation point usage up to subjective interpretation and 2) it makes it difficult to alert people to instances in which YOU ARE EVEN MORE EXCITED ABOUT SOMETHING!!!!!!!!!!!!

Needless to say, I was worried about the experiment, and was certain I would fail miserably. I did, sort of, but not in the areas I expected.

I was most concerned about how my boyfriend would feel — since we weren't going to tell people about it unless it became an issue, I was concerned he would read my boring Gchats as evidence of anger. Was this experiment worth the fights that would ensue, or stewing resentment? But to my relief and my surprise, I...don't really use exclamation points with my boyfriend? Not only did I never slip with him, but he also never brought up anything feeling different in our texts or chats. Because nothing felt different!

Where I *did* slip up, accidentally and intentionally, again and again, was in professional communication. I'm an editor and manager, so my days are filled with a lot of emails and chats requesting things of people, or alerting people of changes they have to make — in general, communicating things that are, at worst, a criticism that person might strongly disagree with, and at best, just kind of a hassle. Turns out, I am obsessed with softening these demands with so many exclamation points.

What does this mean? That I'm made uncomfortable by asserting my authority? By the fact that I EVEN HAVE authority? Maybe! I also think it's largely from the fact that I know how scary it is to get an email or (god forbid) a Gchat from a boss, especially one you might not know very well. I feel like exclamation points are effective diffusers of fear. The great equalizer of punctuation. We're all chill, it's all good, just make those edits. It's also probably linked to my (endearing?????? lol) need to be liked. By everyone!!

KATIE

Katie Heaney

Number of exclamation points accidentally used: 23

God, this was terrible. I love exclamation points SO MUCH, it turns out. I think I'm generally a pretty excitable/frantic person, and I convey that anxious energy with exclamation points as much as possible. I also use them to soften texts I'm worried will sound weird/mean otherwise, and to indicate self-deprecation when I'm presenting something I find mildly embarrassing, and I don't want people to think I take myself too seriously. In other words, I learned that much of my exclamation usage is anxiety-driven. Haha!!!

I think I was the first to fail at this experiment (45 minutes in), and I failed often. I used three exclamation points in an email wishing someone a successful knee surgery, which I would not have known how to say otherwise. I used three in a tweet to emphasize the not-that-big-ness of the age gap between Harry Styles and Taylor Swift:

Katie Heaney

I also used them in texts to Arianna (by mistake), and in one text to a new friend (on purpose), because I felt that it was too early in our friendship to risk having her think I hate her. The next day, I again used an exclamation point on purpose in an email to my therapist, whom I really do not want to think I hate her.

Like Arianna, I was most worried about the effects this experiment would have on my relationship, but it turns out that is only because I know that I would be concerned if my girlfriend stopped using exclamation points for three days. (I have told her she is forbidden from ever texting me "K." when she means "OK!"). She, on the other hand, did not notice at all.

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GRACE

Grace Spelman

Number of exclamation points accidentally used: 41

I thought this was going to be a lot harder. (Ed. note: You did use 41, though. Lol.) I am a very excitable person. But I realized when I’m excited, MOST OF THE TIME I JUST DO CAPS. It was so hard not to use exclamation points in emails to my co-workers. I realized that one exclamation point can make a huge difference in how I want my messages to sound:

“I’ll have it in by Thursday.”

and

“I’ll have it in by Thursday!”

I didn’t want anyone to think I was mad, so instead of exclamation points I ended up using a LOT of smileys and emojis.

Grace Spelman

In my personal life, it was actually pretty easy not to use exclamation points. But in the workplace, I don’t think I could live without them.

CONCLUSIONS

Somewhat to our surprise, we found that it was overall easier to abstain from exclamation points in our personal lives than in our professional ones. It may be that, as women in the workplace, we feel increased pressure to appear friendly, accommodating, and grateful.

In our personal lives, we are more able to modify our language, perhaps because we trust the people who know us well to be able to read our mood and tone through other cues.

Do we plan to use exclamation points any less frequently going forward?

No!!!!!!!!!!!!

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