Bang! Bang!


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!

Just 97 miles away




The magnetic pole drew Shackleton, called Ernest by friends and family. He had a vision of standing in the frozen south, looking north toward England. He faced the cold and vowed that he would reach “the end of the axis upon which this great round ball turns.”





On the first day of the year 1908, mid-summer in his upside world, Shackleton and the crew of the Nimrod sailed toward the bottom of the world. After 29 days, they could sail no more. The ice embraced the ship, and the cold plotted through the fall and winter to kill them, but they survived, waiting in the long darkness for the sun to rise again. When October turned spring, Shackleton and three others set out for zero longitude.





Like most of us, he almost reached his dream, just 97 miles short. That’s 156 kilometers for those who dream in other places.




Our dreams draw us, and in spite of hunger, frost-bitten feet, and the blinding white of despair, we slog on, so often turned back just miles from the place where we had hoped to plant our flags.




Dick and Jane: Bulwer-Lytton and Hemingway


 Look, Jane, look.

See the dark.

I cannot see the dark, Dick.

I see the storm.

I see the night.

I see the dark and stormy night.

Run, Spot, run!

Run in the rain, Spot.

Funny Spot.

See the torrents.

See the rain.

The rain falls in torrents.

Look, Dick, look.

See the wind.

The wind is violent.

See the big word.

See the big wind.

Look! Puff can fly.

Bye, Puff, bye.

See the man.

The man is old.

The man can fish.

He is in a boat.

I can spell boat.

See me spell.


Where is Spot?

Where is Puff?

Where is Dick?

Where is Jane?

They are not in the boat.

The man is alone.

The boat is in the water.

See the boat float.

The man can count.

He can count the days.

He counts to 84.

Look at the fish!

Look! Look!

Where are the fish?

Ha, ha.

I made you look.

There are no fish.

The man has no fish.