John Witkowski was trying to make some progress on a work project one day this summer when he fired off more than two dozen emails. The 30-year-old tax accountant from Cleveland ended each message with: “Thanks in advance for your help with this project.”
The notes caught the attention of his manager, who instant-messaged him:
“She was like, ‘You’re not your normal, cheery, bubbly self,’ ” Mr. Witkowski said. “ ‘You’re not using exclamation points.’ ” She told him she felt his emails came off as more demanding than usual.
“I didn’t really know how to react,” he said.
Exclamation points are stressing people out. Years of rampant use have both diluted the punctuation mark’s meaning and inflated its significance. It’s especially bad in the workplace, where an exclamation point can suggest anything from actual excitement or gratitude, to general friendliness, to reassurance that 2 p.m. works for a meeting, to…I’m not mad about the other day. I swear, it’s fine!
There are various types of exclamation-point anxiety. Using the punctuation mark when other people don’t can lead to self-consciousness. The absence of an exclamation point can send some recipients into a tizzy. Others have had enough and would like things to go back to the way they used to be when there wasn’t so much hinging on this tiny little torture device. It’s just too much!
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