cover image An Admirable Point: A Brief History of the Exclamation Mark!

An Admirable Point: A Brief History of the Exclamation Mark!

Florence Hazrat. Godine, $17.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-56792-787-0

This entertaining debut by Standing on Points podcaster Hazrat “reclaim[s] the exclamation mark from its much maligned and misunderstood place at the bottom of the punctuation hierarchy.” She chronicles historical uses of exclamation points and the development of punctuation generally in the Western world, noting that the need for punctuation to distinguish “exclamatory or admirative sentences” was first proposed by Italian scholar Iacopo Alpoleio da Urbisaglia in the mid-14th century, and the modern exclamation point was first used by Florentine lawyer Coluccio Salutati in 1399. Hazrat argues that the vagueness of the exclamation point—which might indicate fear, anger, surprise, or joy—makes the “grammar police” want to systematize it, describing how Henry and Francis Fowler’s 1906 style guide summed up the modern era’s austere attitude toward punctuation in positing that if punctuation alters the meaning of a sentence, its use is “radically bad.” The illuminating history traces how the rules of written language change over time, and the sharp analysis is grounded in a convincing philosophy of language, as when the author asserts that grammar should change as colloquial usage does because grammar’s purpose is to enable readers to “feel our way” into a text. This is worth shouting about. Photos. (Mar.)