Proposal for a new punctuation mark

Rob Walker says: "A proposal for a new punctuation mark that would be somewhere between the deadpan period and the excitable exclamation point. I think the digital-text era would benefit."

I can recall coming across advice when I was in college in the late 1980s suggesting that it was permissible to use an exclamation mark once every twenty years or so. Today I probably type one every twenty minutes. I’m not doing so in published work, naturally, but rather in email: “Thanks!” “Congrats!” “See you soon!” It’s not just me. Even as I was writing this paragraph, I got a note from a highly erudite editor of a widely respected literary/cultural journal: “You are too kind!”

You like it‽

Ellen Susan proposes a new punctuation mark, the ElRey, for the digital-text era


  1. The exclamation point has already filled this role! We need to replace the traditional role of the exclamation point with a double exclamation point!! This is just the cost of living in an era of exclamation point inflation!!!

    1. What would help us out of this morass would be a punctuation mark which expresses the profound apathy we feel when reading much of what’s on the web.

      A pithy name for the i-don’t-give-a-shit mark.

  2. I don’t think it’s really necessary.  But I do kind of think we need, standardized, a type of quotation mark for denoting digital text-based communication.  Like, quotation marks are fine to use for that sometimes, but if you’re writing a story or a news article or something and mixing vocal conversation and a person reading a text-message in the same scene, it can be a little confusing.

    1. The mark does remind me of one of the Oatmeal’s “alienation faces”, if sideways.  Maybe the problem is not distinguishing between high excitement and sincerity, but between sincerity and sincerity and insincerity?  My problem has never been between period and exclamation mark, but between period and ellipsis…

  3. Along not dissimilar lines, I recently proposed software that helps break the exclamation habit by giving you a set number of exclamation points to use per week:

      1.  I think you have stumbled across something profound here. In the days of longhand writing, punctuation and letter forms were up to the writer, who could freehand a new mark if they wanted. If their correspondents liked it and picked it up, it could spread, but keyboards (and UTF) have locked us into a immutable set of marks and letter forms.

        Unlike words, new punctuation is a matter of international standards bodies, computer manufactures and software developers rather than casual usage and adoption.

  4. We also need question and exclamation marks with commas instead of periods at the bottom so that you don’t have to end the sentence when using them.

    1.  ^this.

      I hate all punctuation.  I use it, well, well, not well, because I was trained to: but I hate it.  Ever try writing code in javascript, java or vb?  Or, any of a dozen other (shitty) languages.  Most of the time, your shit just doesn’t WORK because you have a single quote in the wrong place or a semicolon, not to mention all the parenteticals for flow control…  I mean, MOST of my time is spent fixing punctuation for the stupid, ridiculous inflexible conventions of the language I’m using.  It’s a huge waste of time.  In short, my life SUCKS because of punctuation.

  5. >You like it‽

    well, no.  at first I didn’t understand the application, but after reading the link, I realized that I have also used an exclamation point unnecessarily to avoid making a statement seem deadpan or sarcastic.  there is a need for a mark that says “sincerity and goodwill” without “unbridled enthusiasm.”

    I do not think the glyph proposed by Susan is the solution, though.  it is visually *more* ostentatious than an exclamation point and therefore suggests even more excitement.  naming it “the king” in Spanish gives the same impression.

    if a period sits on the baseline of the text, and the exclamation rises to the top of the text, shouldn’t this proposed glyph lie somewhere in the middle?  what if it was bent over to suggest a muting of the exclamation?  “¬.” but bent the other way?  i dunno.  IANAtypographer, but the elrey ain’t working for me.

    punctuating with a smile works pretty well, too, come to think of it :)

    1. If there was a punctuation mark that denoted a lack of sarcasm I’m pretty sure all the sarcastic people would start using it ironically.

      Which retort seems more scathing?

      –I just got a new Bosch oven!
      –I’m so happy for you!
      –I just got a new Bosch oven!
      –I’m so happy for you (sincerity mark)

      1.  I see the wisdom of it.  I do find it irksome that sometimes a period used correctly/meant benignly can connote a deadpan delivery.  perhaps a “deadpan” mark over the period is more to the point (ha.)  though I’m heavily in favor of discarding the whole concept now.

  6. My colleague and I have taken to capitalizing the last two letters in a word to accomplish the same tone.

    ThanKS. sits right between Thanks. and Thanks!

  7. It occurred to me that there was a need for a less excitedly frantic mark in 1978, so I started using “½!”–back then, there was a ½ key on the keyboard. Perhaps now its day has arrived ½!

    1. So if you’re really excited, you use !², and if you’re peeing yourself with enthusiasm, !³ ?

      1. Actually, I’m more subdued than that, though I can imagine that some might want to go that way. However, it’s easy to add more exclamation points…fewer than one, but more than zero, is the challenge. A very excited person could make the entire sentence factorial! Wait…that won’t work.

  8. I don’t think it communicates the concept well. How about an exclamation point on its side?

    I’m so excited to go to Jeff’s party on Friday._

  9. A composition professor referred to exclamation points as “dumbshiats.” (without the a)

    He believed that if the exclamation worked well when the word dumbshiat was used in the place of the punctuation, then the exclamation point was usuable.

    “Really, dumbshiat?” works. “Ouch, dumbshiat” works. “Thanks, dumbshiat” does, on occasion, work.

  10. We are stuck with design decisions made by the Digital Equipment Corp made for the DECWRITER series of printing terminals (LA-30, LA-120, etc) and the VT100/VT102 display terminals.

    Does your keyboard have a US cents sign?  Yes, I’m sure it’s in Unicode, but it isn’t accessible.  What about 1/2, 1/4, etc. symbols?  Those are available in various ways too – but not on a conventional QWERTY keyboard.  I believe these symbols were on IBM 3270 terminals – but not on DEC terminals.

    Want to go really strange?  APL had an enormous number of symbols and required special displays and keyboards.  The American Library Association had a design for online library catalogs that required special keyboards and displays.

    Special displays aren’t a problem these days – but there is limited space on a keyboard, and unless a symbol can find a standard location on a keyboard (some combination of FN/SHIFT/CONTROL/OPTION/COMMAND/WINDOWS LATIN, then it won’t be used by the masses.

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