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!