I’m a surly bastard. At least, the brand / character I’ve created that comes out of my fingertips onto a keyboard is often pissed off about something. Like magical weight loss Saran Wrap, or dark chocolate, or sellers of protein shakes who call themselves “coaches,” or that fat shaming train wreck called The Biggest Loser.
In person, I’ve had people tell me, “You’re not nearly as big of an asshole as I thought you’d be.”
If I use an exclamation point in my writing I’m either mocking someone, or I’m pissed off about something, or I’m describing throwing up a belly full of vodka.
I almost never use an exclamation point to express excitement. Because: surly bastard.
Or, just, you know, male.
My writing is often blunt. While also being long-winded. Not sure how that works. Anyway, prior to being a fitness writer I worked in an office environment and sent many an email. Never did I feel the need to spark up my emails to make them seem more friendly or unthreatening. Didn’t matter how far up or down the chain they were going. I used them to relay information in the clearest way I knew how.
I never caught any shit for my “tone.”
I started to realize that women had a thing for exclamation points only when I saw how it affected me. Most editors I’ve worked with over the years have been women. I’m cool with having my words changed for a couple of reasons. First is that with the volume of work I publish, I don’t have time to get bent out of shape over editorial changes. Second is that editors usually make it a lot better.
But when editors start inserting exclamation points into my writing to express delight or excitement, I develop a twitch.
I noticed it was only female editors that did it. Looking closer, it seemed that women had a penchant for including this form of punctuation in their own writing as well. I don’t know why, but I hate exclamation points used to express excitement. At least, I refuse to do it in my own writing because it seems disingenuous and even tacky. I’m not that excited about what I just wrote; I’m not going to fake it for readers.
It happened recently with an editor for a major publication, and I had to take it out, telling her that I don’t use exclamation points. And then my curiosity finally got the better of me, and I posted this to my Facebook page:
I just said this to my feminist wife and daughter and they both laughed and agreed, so I don’t think it qualifies as sexist. How’s that for a lame attempt at ass covering? Anyway, I expect most male writers who have worked with female editors have asked this question before:
What is it with women and exclamation points?
The comments field exploded.
The funniest comment was this one: “Perhaps they are simply sick of periods.”
But I recommend you check out the discussion taking place on that page, and feel free to participate (and like my damn page – I’m almost at 50,000 followers!)
Ah, shit. I’m so thrilled about hitting 50,000 an exclamation point snuck in there.
I had no idea as to why women use different punctuation in their writing than men (and it goes beyond punctuation – read the comments), and I was both surprised and disgusted at the reason.
Here is the sarcastic answer (that made me laugh): “I just get so excited when my husband lets me out of the kitchen and allows me to get on the interwebz!!!”
But here is one of the earliest responses that prompted the longest discussion: “Women feel obliged to seem more friendly in emails and professional writing…because of sexism ;)”
The first reply to this comment was “Yes! I was just about to chime in along these lines! We’re so conditioned to try to seem friendly and enthusiastic (and not sullen or grumpy…because… ‘give me a smile, sweetie’) that it spills over into our writing! 🙂 We’re statistically a gazillion times more likely to overuse the exclamation points and smiley faces to make it clear that we’re happy! Excited! Smiling! That comment is totally not meant to be bitchy or shrewish or excessively snide in a way that you might find off-putting! I’m saying it with positive energy and smiles! 🙂 ”
And then the OP immediately followed up with: “Yep! I have learned that some men do not like to receive stern emails from women. I had a whole thing at work one time over the sentence ‘That isn’t going to work for me.’”
No one gives a shit if a man is blunt and uses a simple period to end a sentence. But a woman must use exclamation points to express enthusiasm lest she be thought a bitch and get talked to by a supervisor about her “tone.”
I had no idea the can of worms I opened. I had no idea this was why women often used different punctuation and even different writing styles than men. Well, fuck. I mean “Fuck!” Because I’m not excited. I’m pissed off, and men are fine with using exclamation points to express anger. I’m pissed off to learn of yet another example of how women must restrain their voices so as not to be considered threatening to the fragile male ego.
The post has hundreds of comments on it. That link again. Go read some of them.
James S. Fell, MBA, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.