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Exclamation marks have become newsworthy! New official guidance to schools states that 7-year-old children ought to avoid ending sentences with exclamation marks unless the sentences begin with “What” or “How”. The concern presumably is that in texts, tweets and social media generally the young are overusing this punctuation mark, devaluing its currency and, of course, doing what the young always do, which is to bring about a decline in the standard of English as it [used to be][ought to be].

On 7 March the ‘Times’ devoted an editorial to this topic, headed “Cripes!”.   It’s on the internet at  http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/leaders/article4706985.ece, but unless you go behind that paper’s paywall you’ll only be able to read the first paragraph. But it’s a good paragraph, quoting P G Wodehouse:

“Bertie – let me go!” [Madeline Bassett]

“But I haven’t got hold of you.” [Bertie Wooster, whose heart is not in fact breaking]

“Release me!” [Madeline B]

“This poignant scene is unimprovable”, opines the ‘Times’, but would fall foul of the new guidance. The writer calls the new guidance “Dreary bureaucatese “.   We are reminded that the grammar authority Fowler, no less, deplored the use of the exclamation mark by inferior writers – but it can properly be used “with expressions of agreement, challenge, apology and many other exclamatory functions” plus the imperative (see Madeline Bassett above). The use by young people of text messages and the like – and emoticons – is a real development in the English language (whether we older folk like it or not), runs the argument. If increased use of the screamer goes with this, then so be it. It meets a need (though what that need is isn’t specified). Get used to it – “Ministers cannot stop its advance!”

Where do you stand on the exclamation mark?

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