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Thanks to corporate jargon, double exclamation marks are everywhere

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If there is any feeling to be found in the joyless brick of human knowledge that we call the smartphone, certainly, it lives in our punctuation.

On a rainy Monday morning, I found myself thinking, as I do, about writing ticks. I realized that in my Slacks, texts, and unedited articles, I had been relying on a form of punctuation to indicate I really, truly felt something: the double exclamation point. 

“Sorry!!” I write to my editor, after posting something in a public Slack channel I meant to send over DM.

“Be there in 15!!” I send en route to a Saturday night dinner, 25 minutes away. 

“Starting shit!!” I write to a friend who is, well, starting shit.

A search through my text messages and Slacks shows that my friends and colleagues are also enthusing through this twinning punctuation; my editor shares that he has been consciously doubling up on his exclamation marks, too.

A December 2018 Boston Globe article documents the rise of the multi-exclamation mark, and partially attributes its ascendence to — who else — Trump.

There is also, of course, a tweet that crystallizes my own experience— albeit, in slightly more deranged form. The writer observes that we’ve replaced punctuation austerity with maniacal abundance. It resonates so much with the good people of Twitter that it has 14 thousand likes and over 2,000 retweets. 

While many do employ more than three exclamation points at a time, messages that we might have once sent with a single “!” now come with a second helping. To make plans, share a revelation, provide an update on progress to a meet-up, we’re conveying strangely still-restrained-but-mostly-enthusiastic exuberance about our thoughts and feelings.

When the heck did one exclamation point become not enough?!!

During my three month review of my first job out of college, my boss — while simultaneously denying me a promised pay bump — directly told me I needed to be “friendlier” over email. “You should use more exclamation points in your emails,” she advised direly.

Just as surely as the bilious circling back and suggestions to hop on a call began to flow out of my then 22-year-old fingers, so too did the exclamation point. “Hi, hope we can connect soon!” I wrote again, and again, and again. 

When one is not enough.

When one is not enough.

Image: screenshot: rachel kraus/mashable

Corporate jargon is a well-documented phenomenon that requires fake positivity to color the fact that you’re usually being an asshole. Before entering the work force, my emails to my college co-op, friends, family, and professors were devoid of exclamation points, like the dutiful sardonic-yet-earnest student I was.

The exclamation point was maybe reserved for homemade birthday cards; more often, it came with an expression of post-ironic despair. My generation of internet generally preferred the all-caps to the !, but the lone exclamation point still retained a sort of weight — true hyperbole.

But as those of us who grew up with LiveJournal and Hipster Runoff —home of ironic punctuation galore — became buttoned up office folk, the work email poisoned the exclamation point. 

It didn’t mean that you were enthusiastic — just the opposite. It became a perfunctory pleasantry, like the word “please,” sent by a boss whose superior status meant she by no means had to ask nicely. Or it covered up the resentment and fear you (I) felt while providing an update to a boss’s relentless Gchats. 

Today in my work emails, the exclamation point remains a lie. I’m reaching out to a source, yes, because it’s my job and I’m interested in what this person has to say, but I’m not necessarily stoked about it. I have to assume PR people who fill their messages of “reaching out” with exclamation points aren’t ecstatic about sending an email they know the recipient probably won’t answer.

The single exclamation point is the domain of the corporate email.

So how to convey enthusiasm to someone who is not a corporate contact? How to show a friend or a colleague you mean it?

Enter the double exclamation point. This lexical sleight of hand reinvigorates the san-seriffed text, showing enthusiasm, without sounding like a psycho. I AM excited for our dogs to meet. I AM excited to learn about a rare historical poisoning. I sincerely AM on my way to dinner!! 

The triple and quadruple and infinity exclamation points convey their own sense of emotion. But the double exclamation point — as is appropriate for our age of excess — is the new single !. 

Technology itself has facilitated the adoption of the double exclamation point. Alongside thumbs up, thumbs down, a heart, and a question mark, one of the pre-loaded responses iMessage users get when they double tap on a text message is a “!!.” One is simply not enough for SMS.

Apple wants me to enthuse, and mean it.

Apple wants me to enthuse, and mean it.

Image: screenshot: rachel kraus/mashable

In our hyper-emotive current moment — where each day sees new heights of absurdity and despair — emotions once reserved for extreme circumstances happen daily. But that doesn’t mean that our small joys should matter any less. Or that the dominance of written communication in the workplace should co-opt the way we’re able to express ourselves in the messages that matter to us, personally.

The double !! is linguistic inflation; to show we’re actually happy, not fake happy, print more bills. But in an internet-scape where joy is hard to come by, I’m happy to pay the price. And luckily, exclamation points are free.

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