IT TAKES MINUTE DETAIL…
There is so much to talk about here:
The cinematic, brutal beauty of this album’s instrumentation. The hypnotic lulls and deafening crescendos. Its rejection of the typical ’12 songs of around 3 minutes 30 seconds each’ album structure. The almost classical way that the work is divided into movements within a larger piece. The similarities between its use of field recordings and found footage in film. The macabre and disconcerting content of those field recordings. The very genre of post-rock itself. The strikingly gorgeous William Schaff album artwork. The scratchy, hand-drawn diagrams. The niche trend of disembodied hands on record covers (now there’s a playlist waiting to happen…). The political context of the record’s release, coinciding as it did with the election of George W. Bush. The wonderfully impractical name of both the group and the record.
But we aren’t going to focus on any of those things.
Buckle up, grammar nerds: instead, we’re going to talk about…
Because Godspeed You! Black Emperor chose to stick an exclamation point right in the middle of their name.
And as a copywriter, I know that’s bound to be a bone of contention.
Not just the bizarrely ungrammatical placement of the exclamation point.
The fact that they’ve used one at all.
Many writers have been forbidden from using exclamation marks at all, seeing them as a gauche expression of a lack of confidence; a bit of kitsch to be avoided at all costs. Creative writing teachers may scare their students off them through impassioned disavowals. Editors probably lose one red pen a year to exclamation marks alone. And legendary author F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
There’s a lot of opposition.
And not entirely without cause, either.
With more and more of our lives being lived out digitally, our language has changed. In online correspondence (particularly in professional settings) and on social media, a new kind of ’email-ese’ has taken over, almost to the point of total ubiquity. For fear of appearing aggressive or rude, many now use exclamation points and emojis so liberally that it would have been seen as sarcastic just a few short years ago. It’s a kind of performative positivity; a grammatical niceness that feels a bit like a vacant, Cheshire Cat grin in written form.
That sounds harsh, but does a run of the mill email really warrant a response with six exclamation marks, more intensifiers than you can shake a stick at, and a couple of smiley faces? (This is a rhetorical question.)
So I can understand why some writers would swear off them forever.
But here’s my big confession: I’m not one of them.
I’m not a big fan of hard and fast rules. I think any writer should feel free to use whatever they find most effective. And if that means an exclamation mark every now and again? Go for it!
Used in moderation, I think they’re just fine. Like I’ve said before about using swear words in copy, treat the words like the main course and use punctuation like seasoning. Sure, too heavy a hand with the salt will overpower the flavour, but without any pepper, your meal is going to be pretty bland. And a properly used exclamation point, or a semi-colon, an en dash, an interrobang, or whatever other piece of punctuation you’ve been told never to use can really make your copy stand out.
And beyond copy, you don’t need to feel guilty about dropping in an exclamation mark or smiley face every now and again. After all, do you really want to be the person who sends an email that just says “No.”? (This is another rhetorical question: don’t be that person.)
So I’d advise caution against almost any rule that deals in absolutes; writing-based or otherwise. Any piece of received wisdom which tells you that you should never, under any circumstances, use something in your writing should be taken with…
…well. A pinch of salt.
What’s the point?