This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Nuts and Bolts: exclamations.


The exclamation mark is supposed to be a sign of joy, but sadly it causes terrible bitterness.

We have a National Curriculum in English schools. Lots and lots of people hate it, and recently there's been a fuss about this part of the English curriculum for some of the youngest children:

"4.4.2 Sentences with different forms: exclamations. For the purposes of the English grammar, punctuation and spelling test, an exclamation is required to start with What or How e.g. • What a lovely day! • How exciting! A sentence that ends in an exclamation mark, but which does not have one of the grammatical patterns shown above, is not considered to be creditworthy as an exclamation (e.g. exclamatory statements, exclamatory imperatives, exclamatory interrogatives or interjections)." 

The basis of people's outrage seems to be that exclamations don't necessarily consist of sentences beginning what or how. This is, of course, true - though it's also true that the passage above doesn't say that they do.

Ah well. Personally, I can't see that it's such a terrible thing to explore the difference between How are the mighty fallen! And How are the mighty fallen? 

But, hey, what do I know?

Anyway, exclamation marks. As well as being useful for marking exclamations, they do sterling work in the Maths of probabilities, and also in computing. This sort of exclamation mark is sometimes known as a bang or a shriek or (particularly in passwords if you want to look cool) a pling.

I was wondering about ending this post with an ironic exclamation mark, but I've just come across Scott Fitzgerald's line where he says that using an exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.


So I won't.

Thing To Decide Not To Use Today: an exclamation mark. The most endearing theory about the origin of this piece of punctuation is that it started off as the Latin word io, joy, which used to be used as a sort of HURRAY sign. Mediaeval monks used it, and a simplified form of the word has come down to us.

Thank you, brothers.

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