U. S. English versus British English
Compared to the British, Americans use exclamation points very sparingly. This odd fact was first brought home to me by the American critic, Richard Deutch, shortly after the reviews started rolling in for “Merryll Manning: The Health Farm Murders”.
At this time, Richard was the book editor for the nation’s highest circulation newspaper, “The Sunday Telegraph”. After telling me he liked my novel (a fact I already knew since he had given the book a highly favorable review), he surprised me by asking, “But why do you use so many exclamation points? It’s not necessary!”
I was amazed. In the first place, I didn’t know what an exclamation point was, since we British call them exclamation “marks”. In the second place, of course, it never once crossed my mind that my usage was in any way excessive.
At school and university, I’d been taught that an exclamation mark (as we called it) was used whenever a sentence comprised only one, two or three words; or whenever it was felt necessary to indicate that someone had raised his or her voice; or whenever an author simply wanted to make a statement more emphatic.
That’s a fact! Indeed, some well-known, well-publicized and extravagantly well-reviewed thriller novelists thought nothing of peppering a whole page with double and even triple exclamation points!!!
No-one complained, or thought this practice in any way reprehensible. Indeed many of the prescribed authors I studied at school and uni, employed exclamation marks far more prolifically than I did in “Merryll Manning: The Health Farm Murders”.
For example, my favorite author, Jerome K. Jerome, occasionally studded two exclamation marks into the one sentence! (And that there’s an instance of the standard – indeed obligatory – British usage).
I told Richard that Dickens had probably used ten times the number of exclamation points in his short novel, “A Christmas Carol” than I had in the whole of “Merryll Manning: The Health Farm Murders” which was at least twice the length.
Richard, of course, didn’t believe me. So I hunted out my copy of “A Christmas Carol” and we let it fall open to a random page. It was about two-thirds of the way through Stave II. The first sentence at the top of the page read, “Why, it’s old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it’s old Fezziwig alive again!”
We then counted up the rest of the exclamation marks on that particular page. There were fourteen!
Richard was amazed! Astonished! Couldn’t believe his eyes!
But that’s a fact!