The Exciting History of the Exclamation Point!

2 min read

The history of the exclamation mark is more of a question mark. 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!

Disclaimer: Please use this very exciting punctuation mark sparingly and judiciously.

The Exclamation Point's History

Something similar to the exclamation point was seen in a manuscript from 1399, written by Florentine chancellor Coluccio Salutati. In that manuscript, the symbol appears to be the Latin interjection (meaning joy), but the scribes placed the "I" over the "ō."

Iacopo Alpoleio da Urbisaglia was the first person to claim to have invented the exclamation point. This 14th-century Italian poet wrote Ars punctuandi, which translates to The Art of Punctuating. His name for the exclamation point was the “admiration point.”

Skip forward a few hundred years and the exclamation point is serving its excitable purpose for writers. A rumor goes that Victor Hugo, desperate to know the sales of Les Misérables, sent his agent a telegram consisting of only a question mark. As telegrams were priced by the character, the agent conveyed the rousing success with a single exclamation point.

Other writers have not been so appreciative of the expressive punctuation. According to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.” In Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" series, a character claims, "Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind." He elaborates in a later edition, “And all those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head.”

The Exclamation Point in Print

While the exclamation point was popular in print, it didn't make its way onto typewriters and keyboards until the 1970s. Prior to the ’70s, you would have to create it manually, by typing a period, then backing up and placing an apostrophe over the period — sort of like a semicolon flipped upside down.

The exclamation point doesn't always stand alone. If you want to express extreme surprise and confusion (Say what?! ), insert the interrobang by combining the exclamation point and the question mark. "Interro" comes from "interrogation" and "bang" is what high-powered business folk would shout out to secretaries taking dictation to indicate an exclamation point.

As we've learned, some writers would advise to limit your exclamation points, but if you're writing in Spanish, you get double the fun. If you are going to end your sentence with an exclamation point, you must begin with an inverted exclamation point. ¡Que increíble!

Photo Credit: Jason Leung/ Unsplash

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