Yes, I have them. Of course I have them. What kind of self-respecting writer/editor/writing instructor would I be if I didn’t have them? What is my biggest punctuation pet peeve? It happens to be a “toss up” between exclamation points and quotation marks!

But I realize that not everyone has punctuation pet peeves like yours truly, a self-proclaimed, anal-retentive punctuation Nazi of sorts. And so, for the most part, I keep these oddities to myself. You’re welcome for at least realizing (and somewhat coming to terms with) the fact that probably no one wants to hear, let alone read, about such a bland topic as what particular punctuation mark should be used and when and where and in what context.

However, this post serves as a small form of personal validation as I have just read a brilliant essay with the brilliant title, “Notes on Punctuation,”* by Lewis Thomas. Of course it is only brilliant because he shares my disdain for the exclamation point and my annoyance with the misused quotation mark. And because he has said it much more eloquently than I, I shall leave you herewith two excerpts from said essay (note the fabulous use of the word fob):

“Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else’s small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn’t need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!”

“Quotation marks should be used honestly and sparingly, when there is a genuine quotation at hand, and it is necessary to be very rigorous about the words enclosed by the marks. If something is to be quoted, the exact words must be used. If part of it must be left out because of space limitations, it is good manners to insert three dots to indicate the omission, but it is unethical to do this if it means connecting two thoughts which the original author did not intend to have tied together. Above all, quotation marks should not be used for ideas that you’d like to disown, things in the air so to speak. Nor should they be put in place around clichés; if you want to use a cliché you must take full responsibility for it yourself and not try to fob it off on anon., or on society. The most objectionable misuse of quotations marks, but one which illustrates the dangers of misuse in ordinary prose, is seen in advertising, especially in advertisements for small restaurants, for example ‘just around the corner,’ or ‘a good place to eat.’ No single, identifiable, citable person ever really said, for the record, ‘just around the corner,’ much less, ‘a good place to eat,’ least likely of all for restaurants of the type that use this type of prose.”

Yeah. What he said.

*Essay originally found in The Medusa and the Snail by Lewis Thomas, published by Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc. Copyright 1979 by Lewis Thomas.

3 thoughts on “Punctuation Pet Peeves

  1. Yes! The exclamation point is horrible! But only if you fail to appreciate the beauty of sounding out your prose. As Wikipedia explains, “In typesetting or printing (and therefore when spelling text out orally), the exclamation mark is called a screamer or bang.”

    Yes-BANG The exclamation point is horrible-BANG A glorious cacophony of crashing cymbals marking the exclamation of the point. Music-BANG Crashing music-BANG And perhaps the sound of a dog’s bark-BANG-BANG-BANG

    I’m barking mad-BANG

  2. Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

    That book changed my life.

    P.S. – When you have a sentence that ends with an exclamation point it just means that you have to finish reading it VERY LOUDLY!

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