Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Definition 1: A screamer is a large raucous bird with a goose-like body, chicken-like head, a short, hooked bill and a harsh, honking call.

Definition 2: A screamer is someone who talks in a very loud voice.

Definition 3: A screamer is an exclamation mark, especially in newspapers, posters and the like. They are used to emphasise, draw attention, reinforce something said; to indicate excitement, surprise, astonishment, or strong emotion. These marks are called exclamation marks because they exclaim!!!!!!  In a very loud voice.  Raucously.

Definition 4: A screamer is one of my pet hates – and I use them all the time. Can’t help it, they spill out, littering the landscape and having to be swept away. They can add punch but need to be used with discretion if they are not to overwhelm the text. It is, however, the lazy way to write. Instead of finding strong words to beef up what I’m writing, it’s too easy to end a sentence with ! In the revision process they are firmly deleted.

Splattering (and they do splatter, just look at them) exclamation marks like confetti all over text is frowned upon by anyone of discernment. Dear old Fowler (Modern English Usage, although no longer so modern) wrote that “excessive use of exclamation marks is, like that of italics, one of the things that betray the uneducated or unpractised writer.” To my mind, exclaiming after every sentence is like talking to someone and constantly poking him in the ribs and honking. Writing a sentence with a cluster of exclamation marks at the end is more like whacking someone on the back hard enough to dislodge a chicken bone.  

Yes, times change and rules are made to be broken, but the pesky things must be used sparingly if they are to have any effect. Exclamation marks are not full stops.  However, sometimes they are used as full stops – after every sentence!  We bang down two, three or more of them, even when one by itself is inappropriate!!!!  Along with typing in CAPITAL LETTERS, which comes across as shouting and is considered rude, bossy or in-your-face, and using italics or underlining, exclamation marks can lend emphasis but, if over-used, lose that emphasis and become annoying.

There are, obviously, good reasons for them – in their place. They can be used in direct speech to indicate strong feelings: “My goodness!”  Or excitement, urgency: "No!" he bellowed. "It’s going to blow up!  Generally speaking, exclamation marks have no place in narrative prose, as opposed to conversational or informal prose. And even when they are used, it should only be one at a time.  After all, no one would put two or three commas or question marks instead of one – would they?  Just too silly.


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