“They meant they weren’t using exclamation marks and smileys at the end,” Baron said. “They weren’t showing they cared about this communication in ways females tended to care about it.”
In journalistic writing, guidelines for using exclamation marks have remained the same for many years, said David Minthorn, co-editor of the AP Stylebook. The general principle is to proceed with caution and use the extra punctuation in quotes only when truly warranted.
“We don’t use very many exclamation points and the reasoning is that the words themselves should, in most cases, suffice,” Minthorn said. “Our basic guidance is to limit them to express a high degree of surprise, incredulity or other strong emotions.”
Social networking is not confined by such rules. And in their campaigns against exclamation points, some language purists have theorized that people are using more exclamatory punctuation in their texts and e-mails because they’re not spending as much time together, face-to-face.
But it’s equally possible that the exploding use of exclamation marks is simply another example of how written communication has become more informal in recent years.
Language experiences trends, much like fashion does, Baron said. Today, professional women wear pants. Teenage girls wear short skirts. And just about all of us pepper our messages with exclamation marks.
Next year, the fashions may very well change. By responding to people the same way they communicate with us, we bond.
People also show a sophisticated ability to tailor their writing to various modes of communication. On Twitter, for example, exclamation marks and emoticons are used far less often than in texts or other contexts.
“If we lose the ability to think through carefully what we say, that compromises language and the potential power of human interactions,” Baron said. But “there can be lots of power in emotional markers. They’re not necessarily a bad thing.”