The Department For Education is too strict on exclamation marks

Give us a break!

Sunday 06 March 2016 22:33 GMT
The Department for Education are trying to curb the over-use of the exclamation mark
The Department for Education are trying to curb the over-use of the exclamation mark (Rex)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


“A sentence that ends in an exclamation mark, but which does not have one of the grammatical patterns shown above, is not to be considered creditworthy as an exclamation.”

This is the new line laid down by the Department for Education in an effort to curb what is regarded as the pandemic of exclamationism, encouraged if not actually created by social media, where no expression of joy, shock, hilarity or disgust is complete without at least three of the dotty little blighters clustered together at the end. The two “grammatical patterns” referred to are sentences beginning “How” and “What”.

How very unappealing. What a bore.

The education mandarins, still channeling the spirit of Michael Gove, are clearly trying to drive their small charges back into the realm of the Ladybird books and Milly-Molly-Mandy, where tender expressions of surprise and pleasure are employed sparingly across the pages.

But as the seven-year-olds to whom these instructions are directed would explain if they could detach themselves from their small screens long enough, this is not the world they belong to: it’s not even the world their parents belong to, their minds formed by Marvel comics and the Wham! Bang! pop art world of Roy Lichtenstein. Even back then, an acclaimed, literary novel – Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities – contained plenty of lines such as:

“He stared at her. It wasn’t a trick! She was sincere! And yet… with a few swift strokes… she had… tied him in knots! – thongs of guilt and logic! Without even trying!”

“How” and “What” never did delimit the functions of the exclamation mark. “The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!” would be far less blood-curdling ending in a full stop. Orders, imprecations, pleas for mercy, none of these work half so well without the magic intensifier. Give us a break!

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