Friday, 1 July 2016

An exclamation intervention

Hello and a very happy weekend to you all! If I sound terribly overenthusiastic and chirpy today that’s because I…well I’m not feeling either, particularly, but you’d be forgiven for thinking I was permanently ecstatic, being the serial exclamation mark user I am. 

There’s an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that I often remember at work when I’m tempted to stick one in any form of official communications: "Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke." Which is of course never a great look. But I can’t seem to extend the same principle to my personal life.

As any of my friends could attest, the way I write in texts and Whatsapps makes me sound like Zoella on speed: it’s all 'amazing!!!’ this and ‘LOL!’ that. Before sending a long message to someone, I have to go back and do a mandatory exclamation mark cull. Usually, I’ll find I’ve absent-mindedly ended every single sentence with one, and I have to forfeit at least one for a full stop to save me from sounding like I’m completely MANICALLY ENTHUSED ABOUT EVERYTHING!

And while I might not plaster them all over the stuff we send out at work, I’m still terrible for using them in emails to my colleagues. Invariably, a ‘Sorry for the delay!’, ‘I know you’re busy!’ or ’Thank you!’ ends up in there somewhere. Even if the message I’m replying to contains none itself, and despite the fact that I never really expect to get any back – and certainly not from anyone senior – I still can't help but worry I'll come across as blunt or abrupt or overly pushy without adding the odd one in.

I don't know when it first started, but when I think of the potential explanations for my exclamation addiction, it’s hard to know where my pathetic need to please ends, and the patriarchy begins. By that, I mean part of my over-usage is certainly down to the fact that I hate seeming like I’m pissed off…even when I am. I wouldn’t want someone to actually KNOW they’d annoyed me. But a large part of it is also surely because I've fallen victim to the general expectation for women to seem amenable and cheerful at all times.

From a young age, we're taught implicitly and quite explicitly (‘Cheer up love, it might never happen’), that part of our role here on earth is to please men, emitting only sunshine and prettiness – never mind whether we’ve recently found out that someone’s died, or, you know, just had a bit of a shit day. So it's unsurprising that lots of women lack the same straight-talking, direct tone in messages that men do – for fear of coming across as 'aggressive' or 'bossy'.

Thinking about it, all the serial exclamation mark users among my acquaintance are fellow women. It's weird how along with razors and Bic pens and perfumes, even punctuation is apparently gendered. In fact, the only man who immediately springs to mind as a big exclamation mark fan is Donald Trump. His tweets are littered with them: "Bad performance by Crooked Hillary Clinton! Reading poorly from the telepromter! She doesn't even look presidential!”, one of his most recent exclamatory (and typically absurd-sounding) missives read.

Patriarchy aside for a moment, as the Donald Trump example so aptly demonstrates, the exclamation mark also isn't exactly the coolest member of the punctuation family. Any ostensibly ‘cool’ people – I’m thinking the likes of Raf Simons, Chloe Sevigny, Lily Rose Depp and the like – all have that calm, aloof insouciance thing going on. Enthusiasm is for losers, their 'give a shit' demeanours seem to say. And if punctuation were listed in order of use like emojis are, I doubt try-hard exclamation marks would make the top of their lists.

But it’s not really the need to appear like less of a distinctly uncool enthusiast that's led me to stage my very own exclamation intervention. It's more that I’ve used this piece of punctuation to such an extent that I’m now basically in competition with myself. How am I supposed to exhibit the correct amount of feeling when my friend tells me something genuinely exclamation-worthy, like say, that they’re getting married or got that promotion they desperately wanted, when I greet news even of their lunchtime Pret choices with such rapturous enthusiasm? And if no one else at work is worried about sounding too demanding without them, why should I?

I'm not sure I'll be able to go cold turkey. Self discipline isn't my forte – as anyone who's seen me around a packet of biscuits will know – and like nail biting and the Daily Mail sidebar of shame, old habits die hard. But from here on in, I’m going to do my best to ration them out. So, if you get a message from me that seems uncharacteristically pissy in future, please know it’s not you, it’s me. I promise [!]