Bang! Bang!

Standard

Do you like to scream? Do you enjoy gasping? How about startling others? Do you have vehement enthusiasm that you want to share with the world? Or do you just like to boss other people around?

 

If you answered yes to any of those questions, I imagine your writing or typing has bangs.

 

Bang is one of the exclamation point’s informal names. According to Wikipedia, “dembanger” is another. However, I spent at least ten minutes Googling that word and couldn’t find any information about it, other than simple definitions that all mirrored the Wikipedia article. (Note: Ten minutes on Google equals one year’s research.) None of the online dictionaries list it. Wordnik wants nothing to do with it and vehemently declares that it is not a valid word for Scrabble. Ouch! So, I have serious doubts about dembanger and suspect that it is a sly joke, slipped in by Koavf, Rich Farmbrough, Waacstats, Bearcat, Rjwilmsi, or Woohookitty, the top six editors on Wikipedia.

 

I do not doubt Thomas MacKellar though. According to his book ‪The American printer: a manual of typography: containing complete instructions for beginners, as well as practical directions for managing all departments of a printing office, the bang was called “the sign of admiration or exclamation” back in his day. That day was over 51,000 days ago, which is to say, around 1870. (Admiration moment! Just reading that title makes little marks of admiration go off in my head! Long titles make me swoon!)  MacKellar says “the sign of Admiration…denotes surprise, astonishment, rapture, and the like sudden emotions of the mind, whether upon lamenting or rejoicing occasions.” Sounds elegant, doesn’t it?

 

Most grammar guides and stylebooks ask the writer to refrain from showing too much admiration. Use your words, not your marks, they tell us. So you can imagine my surprise (!) when I came upon not one but two marks of admiration in a book by Nancy Etcoff who somehow managed to write a book in spite of having her hands full. She holds both an M.Ed. from Harvard and a Ph.D. in psychology. In the past, she held a post-doctoral fellowship in brain and cognitive sciences at MIT. How she managed to write anything at all is a wonder. I can only imagine she had to set those things down at some point so she would be able to type. Her book, Survival of the Prettiest, looks at beauty from an evolutionary standpoint, although you might have guessed that from the title. I found it thought-provoking. However, if you’re like me but trying hard not to be, you might startle the first time she goes Bang! on page 23. When she goes Bang! again on page 51, you may start wondering if you have accidentally wandered into a Western. Don’t worry, there’s no more shooting after that.

 

I can’t deny that it shook me up. Exclamation points! In a non-fiction book! What next?!

 

Exclamation marks used to be harder to make. On the old typewriters, you had to hit the single quotation mark, go back one space and hit the period. Now you can hit the bang sign with no extra effort. Still, I think it’s a good idea to watch your bangs. They may not get into your eyes, but they can get into your reader’s eyes.

 

If you use them a lot, talk to your grammar doctor. They’re terminal, you know. Some people who overuse them learn to stifle their admiration and practice restraint. Others don’t care; they live large and prefer to end with a bang. You may be one of them, but not me!

45 thoughts on “Bang! Bang!

  1. Alas, overused and abused. Often falling the end of a mundane cluster of words containing absolutely nothing astonishing. Even more offending is when a writer (particularly of fundraising letters) decides the bang does not provide enough bang and FEELS COMPELLED TO CAPTALIZE THE ENTIRE SENTENCE. But, while on their usage, the Spanish approach of putting you on notice of the required inflection or emphasis ahead by flipping the exclamation point – as well as the question mark – upside down on its head at the beginning of a sentence seems more meaningful….

    • There are so many voices out there calling out for attention, I think people feel the need to try any and all means to catch your attention. After a while, because so many people use the same techniques, we stop paying attention.

      • Feeling shot down by all the comments favoring bang proliferation, I reached back to a punctuation poem for comfort:

        The Exclamation Point!

        The exclamation point is greatly overused!
        One could even say it is frequently abused!
        In advertising copy, it repeatedly resounds!
        And in breathless prose, it literally abounds!
        The poorer the writer, the more frequently the case!
        The exclamation point, they readily embrace!
        To give a little emphasis! To make a little point!
        This punctuation mark they will appoint!
        But, to make emphasis perfectly clear,
        Good writers generally appear
        to make little use of exclamations
        and other such typographic affectations.

        — Ed Truitt, http://www.textbroker.com/blog/authors/valentine-s-poetry-for-the-love-of-punctuation.html

  2. The book sounds good (in spite of poor Nancy’s predilection for enthusiasm) this is a phenomenon not often seen in an academic – maybe she suppressed her enthusiastic, cheery side for so long as she filled her hands with post-grad qualifications that it broke out as a rogue personality when she wrote the book? Maybe she didn’t even know that those exclamation marks were there because this alter-ego got up in the middle of the night and typed them in while poor tired Nancy caught some well-deserved beauty sleep? Much stranger things have happened.

    Anyway, back to my question – is the book good or is it just four hundred ways of saying what it says in the title (like many academic books)?

  3. I always cringe a little when I find the need to use a bang, except in dialogue; then I just get a short twitch because then it’s really a third party who has to carry all that excitement on their shoulders.

    • I have and will continue to use them, but I was taken aback to see them in that non-fiction book. I still can’t quite get over the it; they seemed so odd to me.

  4. According to my editors, I have terminal bangitis! But how else can I express my enthusiastic “admiration” to my readers who may otherwise be munching potato chips, unaware of my excitement for the subject matter at hand? What’s all the fuss I say! It’s just a stick and a dot – like baseball. And a big bang is the home run of a sentence. There! I said it!

    • I like your take, Pat, and especially the image of the bat and ball. I use them, too, but I can’t imagine using them in the type of book I wrote about. I think we sometimes use them to indicate irony, and, of course, sometimes we want to let someone know the extant of our enthusiasm or admiration.

  5. Talk to me...I'm your Mother

    Personally, I’m a banger. Guess it proves that I don’t really have faith in my words to express my exuberance. Oh well, I haven’t taken a writing course for so many years that I have forgotten what I ever knew. It gives me so much freedom!

    • I use them, too, both in my posts and in the comment sections. Sometimes we need a way to express our exuberance or admiration, and that’s what the mark was created to do. But I think if we use it too much, it loses some of its potency.

  6. I think I’m pretty guilty, especially in things like blog comments or emails to friends. I’m a low-key, reserved person, so I think they make things sound “friendlier.” They’re pretty prominent in my blog posts, too — they fit with a particular tone that I like to use. But your post interested me because I’ve found myself removing many of them during the editing phase. When my writing has too many, I start to feel like I’m projecting insecurity, or even a touch of desperation. Egads! Yikes!

    • I know what you mean. I use them, too, and if you were to go through my posts, you’d find them. I use them more in comments and emails because, as you said, that’s a more casual kind of communication (as are most blogs).

  7. I love your blog and have always learned something from you. I feel lucky to have found you. In fact, it feels like you know me and you are talking directly to me most of the time. This time is no exception. Since I know you read my blog, I can only imagine your facial expressions when you constantly run into all my ill use of grammar, misspelled words, and of course, my over use of “the BANG!!!”. I think you can tell I am a lively person with an overly excited love of life. I have tried to leave my excitement bangs out of my life stories but that would be like me hiding under a blanket with a ball gag on…hmmmm. Sorry did not mean to take us there. I have tried to use my colorful words and a thesaurus to show my enthusiasm, however; there is nothing that can capture my excitement like the big BANG!! It is me. I am bull headed and determined to walk my own path even if it is not the one we have been taught. I hope you will continue to look over my !!! and read my blog, warts and all. Now let me tell you how I really feel about you.

    I LOVE your blog! I feel so lucky to have found you!!! 🙂 Birdie

    • Birdie, you are a dear. Everyone has their own style and should choose how they want to express their ideas. If it requires bangs, well, use bangs. What I wanted to get across (but maybe failed to do) was my astonishment at finding exclamation marks in the book I mentioned. I expect to see exclamation marks in blogs, emails, text messages – I use them myself. I don’t expect to see them in somewhat serious non-fiction books, and it had such a strong effect that I had to write about it!

      I am so happy that you enjoy the blog. Your words really encourage me.

  8. I wonder if there’s a word for a non-banger? I have no particular aversion to the dembanger, per se, but can rarely even summon up enough energy to properly capitalize the first word in a sentence, (much less throw in an exclamation point), and apparently I find periods too severe, so I often simply trail off with a neat row of ellipses … like an unfinished thought … or perhaps, like a shrugging of the shoulders …

    • This made me smile. Perhaps it just shows that you are one of those who learned to use her words, not her marks. Or perhaps you are cut from the same cloth as E. E. Cummings.

  9. I tell you, yearstricken… when it was just bangs, I learned how to use them a bit… and eventually grew to like them. They came in handy. But then, people went on to smileys… and I’ve more or les gone into hiding since then…

    • I will have to restrain myself from using a smiley face here, ShimonZ. I use both bangs and smiley faces. Maybe as humans we never quite got over using pictographs, so instead of painting our cave walls with them, we fill our emails and comments with them.

  10. I’d forgotten about the method used to make E.P.s with a typewriter. They might tossed about less lightly if writing persons were required to again do the one stroke forward one back bang.

    • I have wondered about that, too. Also, when you consider how easy it is now to write our thoughts and put them out to the world, it has to make admiration marks go off in your head if not in your fingers.

  11. I am so confused! I have only just got my head around the idea that ‘bangs’ is another way of saying ‘fringe’ when describing a hairstyle and now I discover that bang is an informal name for an explanation point. I need to lie down in a dark room for ten minutes!!!!

    • I’m sorry for making you dizzy. Sometimes my words have the same effect on me. My metaphors were probably confusing. I used the singular to mimic the sound of gun and the plural as hair fringe.

  12. What?! We aren’t supposed to use !!!!?!! Why! I love the extra oomph it gives to words! I will keep using them with abandon! I am a rebel you know!

  13. prosentine

    I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. I think there’s something friendly about an exclamation point.

  14. I’m happy to see you have undertaken further research on the exclamation mark! When I reviewed it a few months ago, I was pleased to come across one writer who was at least slightly supportive of its use: ” …it sometimes seems hurtful to suppress the exclamation mark when – after all – it doesn’t mean any harm to anyone, and is so desperately keen.”
    Lynn Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, p 139.
    Personally, I adore the exclamation mark and I try to use it at least once in every paragraph, just to show my readers that I’m enthusiastic about things.

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