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Squid #473
(published February 11, 2010)
Ask the Giant Squid: On the Abuse of the Exclamation and its Mark
Who is Poor Mojo's Giant Squid?
Dear Giant Squid,

I am horrified by the poor usage of exclamation points on this website: "clapclapclap!!!" I would think that you, Great Squid, one so nearly as bombastic as I in his correspondence would realize. Not only is this a krioboly of the English prosody, but it is also a sign of your obvious mental instability.

"Multiple exclamation points are a sure sign of a diseased mind."—Sir Terry Pratchett

Remember this in the future.

James Rass,
Grammar Master In Residence

Dear Pedantic Petitioner,

In this office we have many opinions. How does the saying go in your Good Word of John? "The house of my Father has many doors"? "The door of My house has many mansions"? "My fatherly house-door is well and roomily mansioned"? Something to that effect. We are a "big tent" operation, in the parlance of your Congress of gentlemen, and although we differ on pizza decoration—lab assistant Rob likes pepperoni, Molly prefers green peppers and olives, Devo is intolerant of the lactose, and I prefer the flesh of dogs to baked-wheat foodstuffs. (The more purebred, the tastier as a rule, both in greens and dogs.)

With regards to the television in the Boom Room—our affectionate name for the enhanced for-take-breaking room in our office—there is no consensus: Molly loves the CNN and the MSNBC and the HBO original dramas, while my young typist Jarwaun and his younger brother Trael are more apt to watch the cartoon-ated children's programs or the violent men of action (or that wonderful programming which combines the two so harmoniously). Rob enjoys the Thursday night NBC sitcoms and the Antiqued Road Show, thus proving him to be both a man of whit and taste (at least in road construction and maintenance, one might surmise). He also watches the Weathers Channel for many hours without break. Leeks, our accountant, has a fervor for the Gossipy Girls; can he be blamed?

There is a sign that Molly had made by a local signcrafter. It is wrought of recycled brass stolen from the plumbing of suburban homes. The brass has been hammered and flattened but for raised letters that boldly state: "Reasonable People Will Disagree." When she mounted this sign (in the manner of a brass-fitting carpenter, not a brass pole dancer) Molly explained that it was the credo and philosophy of our TV room, and proposed it should be the mission statement of the office as a whole.

At first I disagreed with this philosophy. So human, I thought. So pedestrian. Why not all elect ourselves to mayors of the land upon which we stand and plant flags on our heads? But as time went on I saw the wisdom in this phrase, and the inevitable irony of my initial reaction—crafty minx! (As an aside, I once suggested that we reword the sign to read "Reasonable People Shall Disagree"; predictably, we could reach no accord in the manner, which should have resolved for the change, but did not, due to a parliamentary procedure invoked by Rob and his damnéd Rules of Order).

There is no topic that generates more fury in our board room than the topic of prescriptivist versus descriptivist approaches to grammar.

As an aside, do you not find it humorous to quote Sir Pratchett of Her Majesty's Secret Literary Services talking of diseased minds as he himself grapples with a disease of the mind.

You, dear Pedant, rail against our house style of using multiple marks of exclaim (hereafter referred to as "bang!s") when we are excited. In the above phrase, "clapclapclap"—which denotes our applause button on the page of every fiction, column, poem, and essay-the triple bang!s signify the excitement of the reader at the wonder evoked by the art they have just read. One bang! may have done, true, but one bang! can feel so stultifying. To your claim we say, reasonable people will disagree. We also say your mother had no problem with the multiple bang!s we gave her last week. (All credit to Rob for that a propos bon mot, my dearest and pedantic rumpsnigglet.)

Your human grammatacists argue ceaselessly about the proper use of the bang!. Some tight-ankled Prescriptivists feel the bang! should be used in the manner of nuclear weapons: Never, but the threat of it looms largely. Other grammarians who are "hipped" and are "with this" believe that the bang! mark—the exclamation point—should be used for emphasis, and in the case of casual or stylized speech, a row of up to three bang!s is acceptable. (Reference to your mother, who we learn from lavatory wall signage does prefer her bang!s in rows of three, is supernumerary at this time—although we strain to refrain from commenting on the bang! serialization that your son and most-beloved Shetland pony have demonstrated in Rob's most valued novelty anatomical DVD, Inside Outsiders: Ponyboy's Revenge.)

You may disagree; reasonable people will disagree. But you stand as a crumbling cliff face beset by the tides of progress and change. Your old-man grammar with its archaic words ("krioboly"?) and fear of the bang! shall crumble and erode as the waves of youth raised with the texting and the twitterspeak wash upon your beaches.

Advise me not, James Rass, for you teach of the buggy whip, the horse-drawn carriage, the classified ad, and the tin-type Facebook. Perhaps a career in lexico-paleontology would suit you better?

I Remain,
Editor-in-Chief of this Astute Almanac(k)
The Giant Squid(!!!)

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see other pieces by this author | Who is Poor Mojo's Giant Squid? Read his blog posts and enjoy his anthem (and the post-ironic mid-1990s Japanese cover of same)

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