Posted by: episystechpubs | July 22, 2013

Editor’s Corner: Kiss kiss bang bang!

Before I get started, I have a couple things to say regarding Friday’s e-mail about gender-neutral words:

  • To those of you who laughed at my jokes – I’m glad somebody knew I was just having some fun. And by the way, what a great sense of humor you folks have! 🙂
  • To Keith Slayton – You and your KC Masterpiece Great Work of Art BBQ Sauce are simply awesome and I wish I could hire you as a graphic artist.

Now, down to business!

Some weeks ago, my co-worker Sean Hannify asked me about the origins of punctuation marks and symbols on our keyboards, not just what they are used for. I’ve found all sorts of information—some mysterious, some that sounds like it was conjured up by kids cutting class, and some that sounds relatively true. Over the next few weeks I’ll share my findings with you.

The Exclamation Mark (!)
Today, I’d like to introduce you to the many sides of the exclamation point. Generally, we don’t use this much in business writing, since it is used to indicate volume, shouting, excitement, or some kind of interjection. Probably the most common place we’d find this mark is in an error or warning message, such as “Caution! Did you really mean to select the red button?”

As far as the history of the exclamation point, both Wikipedia and the Smithsonian magazine blog mention that nobody is certain, but they offer the same possible theory behind it and some interesting facts about its use. The current theory is that the mark comes from the Latin exclamation for joy: io, with the “i” written above the “o.” As you may remember from school or from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Latin letters are written as capitals, so with io written out (“i” above the “o”), you get something like this:

While the proportions aren’t quite right, you can see what they’re getting at, and it sounds like a good story to me.
As far as English goes, the exclamation mark was first introduced into printing in the 1400s to show emphasis. Wikipedia tells us it was “called the ‘sign of admiration or exclamation’ or the ‘note of admiration’ until the mid-17th century; admiration referred to its Latin sense of wonderment.”
Our next stop is all the way up in the 1950s, when typesetting manuals referred to it as “bang,” which was also the term used to indicate an exclamation point during dictation. One resource speculates that “bang” came from the use of the exclamation point in comic books, where gunfire was represented by spelling BANG! in a dialog balloon.
Up until 1970, if you wanted to type an exclamation point, you had to type a period and then go back and type an apostrophe above it. A few years after the Summer of Love, a lot of hippie babies were born and the exclamation point was added to the typewriter keyboard. The connection? None that I know of.
There are a ton of alternate names and slang terms for the exclamation mark, from the printing world to the land of hackers. Some of these include:

  • exclamation point
  • screamer
  • gasper
  • slammer
  • startler
  • bang
  • shriek
  • pling (British slang)
  • dembanger
  • shout pole

Kara Church
Senior Technical Editor

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