The history of the exclamation mark is actually more of a question mark — nobody really knows where it originated! Though the symbol has been spicing up language and adding enthusiasm to sentences for a long time, its origins are still a bit murky. Let's look at what we do know about this excitable punctuation.
One of the most common pieces of evidence about its origin is that the exclamation point first was seen in a manuscript from 1399, written by Coluccio Salutati. In that manuscript, the exclamation point was either a contraction of the Latin interiectiō or from the Latin interjection Iō”, with the scribes placing the I over the ō.
Iacopo Alpoleio da Urbisaglia was the first person to claim to have invented the exclamation point. He was an Italian poet who lived in the second half of the 14th century. He wrote “Ars punctuandi,” which means the Art of punctuating. His name for the exclamation point was the “admiration point.”
In 2010, journalist Frank Mulligan wrote an article offering a more varied approach to the origin of the exclamation point. Mulligan posits that the exclamation point was used more than 5000 years ago. According to Mulligan, archaeologists found the first exclamation point on a cave wall painting that included a wooly mammoth. The exclamation point’s role was to warn people of the danger of hunting wooly mammoths.
Mulligan details other possible appearances of the exclamation point throughout history — from its inclusion in burial chambers in the Egyptian pyramids at Giza, to a description of Homer, author of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” providing a sort of visual exclamation point during his oral delivery of his stories. During particularly exciting sections of his story, he would stand on a round rock and raise his clasped fists over his head.
The exclamation point did not make its way onto typewriters and keyboards until the 1970s. Prior to the ’70s, you would have to create it manually, by adding an apostrophe over a period.
Another thing to consider when you look at the exclamation point is how it is used in different languages. In English, for example, you can end sentences with an exclamation mark. You also can end a sentence with a combined exclamation mark and question mark. Say what?! The two together create an emphasis known as the interrobang.
The Spanish language, however, requires you to begin a sentence with an upside-down (or inverted) exclamation point if you are going to end your sentence with an exclamation point. ¡Que increible!