Observations and Insights on the Nature of Things
By Eve West Bessier, Poet Laureate Emerita of Silver City and Grant County, New Mexico
The Spanish are forward thinking people. I say this because of the convenient and helpful assistance in the Spanish written language of the inverted question mark and exclamation point at the start of a sentence requiring such punctuation at its close.
What good is a question mark placed solely at the finish line of a sentence? How shall we know how to run the race? Well, you may be thinking, there are indicators: what, where, when, why, and who to name a few. While sentences that start off with such words virtually scream the interrogative, other sentences may be more subtle. Sarcasm, for instance, is deceptive. “So, you think everything is hunky-dory?”
If the case for the inverted question mark is perhaps a tad flimsy, let me assure you that the case for the inverted exclamation point is weighty enough.
Let me start with the disclaimer that the exclamation point in certain situations is blatantly obvious. The statement, “Help!” is difficult to imagine on the page without the exclamation mark. If the mark is omitted, the victim is left with little hope of rescue, but it’s a one-word sentence and I can see the exclamation point coming before I even get past the “H.”
What about longer sentences, or ones with more ambiguous emotional content? For the sake of argument, let’s say I’m doing a cold reading of a script for a film audition. How do I choose the needed inflection and emotional demeanor in a sentence if I don’t know from the start whether my character is mildly annoyed or truly livid? The courtesy and utility of finding the inverted exclamation point at the start of a sentence makes for dramatic preparedness.
Yes, I do agree that the power of the exclamation mark has been severely weakened by over use. Popular culture, especially as promoted by the advertising, film and music industries, has elevated discourse and language to such an incessantly exclamatory height that the exclamation point has become more like salt than cayenne. Add to this the non-judicious use of the four-letter word, F@#*! Though still banned from broadcasting in the US, the F word in popular speech has become little more than filler, replacing less demonstrative syllables such as, “um.” By the way, a speaker is docked points at any Toastmasters meeting for the use of “um” and other such fillers, as they are seen as distractions without merit for meaning or emphasis. I have not personally witnessed the use of the F word as filler at a Toastmasters meeting and can only speculate at its effect, humorous or otherwise. Nonetheless, I’d still appreciate advanced notice that emotions are heightened.
Punctuation is the traffic signage of language posted to assist the conveyance of meaning. The period is clearly a STOP sign, and the comma a YIELD. The question mark indicates CAUTION. Perhaps there is a construction zone requiring a slower pace or greater alertness? Perhaps the road is suddenly more winding or dangerously steep, or perhaps there is black ice ahead? The exclamation mark could be a ONE WAY sign. Better to know this before you turn onto the street in the wrong direction! Or perhaps it’s a DEAD END sign, hardly helpful if posted only at the end of a street that ends in a thousand-foot drop from a cliff.
Without the inverted exclamation point at the start of a lengthy sentence, I may find myself slamming on the brakes with a screech, barely missing a road block only to realize in hindsight that I’ve had four state troopers with red lights flashing and sirens blaring tailing me for who knows how long.
¡That’s a situation I’d like to avoid! ¿Sabes?
Speaking of advanced notice … I will be taking a vacation from the blog in April.
Scroll down to About The Author for more information and check out Eve’s website at: www.jazzpoeteve.com