'Screamer,' 'Slammer,' 'Bang' ... and 15 Other Ways to Say 'Exclamation Point'

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Eva the Weaver via Flickr

The exclamation, for all its ubiquity, is neither the most useful nor the most delightful of punctuation marks. In practicality it is trumped by the comma, the apostrophe, the em-dash, and even, I would venture to say, the semicolon. In delightfulness it is trumped, like every other mark, by the interrobang.

But none of that matters, in the end, because the exclamation point, for all it lacks, has one thing going for it: tenacity. The original method of dash-and-dot communication may be controversial; it may be, at times, grating; it may even drive our discourse -- and us along with it -- toward the tittering and the too-excited. Again, it does not matter, because the exclamation point scoffs at your objections, and then extends toward you its peppy version of a middle finger: !

The exclamation mark, I am trying to say, is the cockroach of the punctuation world. And that's particularly so in the digital space, which so infamously encourages its proliferation (!!!!). The exclamation will, despite and because of all the things that make it terrible, survive us all.

So it's no real surprise that the mark has been the product of a long evolution -- and that, in the process, it has been known by many, many names. So the language writer Stan Carey, building off of a passage in Henry Hitchings's book The Language Wars, has done something great: He has researched our exclamatory euphemisms. The marks' aliases, it turns out, are descriptive! And also alliterative!! And also wonderfully NSFW!!! And all, in their way, glorious.

Below, per Carey, with my additions, is a list of the many names of the exclamation point:

1. Admiration mark: From the time in the 15th century when printers introduced it as a type element, the exclamation point was known colloquially as a "note of admiration." Ben Jonson, according to Hitchings, used "admiration mark." And this usage is retained in Spanish and Portuguese, which refer to the exclamation point as a signo de admiración and ponto de exclamação, respectively.

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In English, the transition from "admiration" to "exclamation" seemed to take place in the mid-17th century, Lynne Truss notes in Eats, Shoots & Leaves. A 1680 book wonderfully titled Treatise of Stops, Points, or Pauses, and of Notes which are used in Writing and Print; Both very necessary to be well known And the Use of each to be carefully taught -- [aaaaand ... pause to take a rest] -- defines the mark according to its contemporary name. The long-winded book contained this pithy poem: "This stop denotes our Suddain Admiration,/ Of what we Read, or Write, or giv Relation,/ And is always cal'd an Exclamation." 

2. Bang: The term, per the graphic designer Allan Haley, likely originated with letterpress printing; the mark is referred to as a "bang" in, among other places, typesetting manuals. (This is how "interrobang" gets its wondrously compound name.) In the 1950s, secretarial dictation and typesetting manuals in America also referred to the mark as "bang" -- a term that might have, some speculate, come from comic books -- which used the mark ! in dialogue balloons to represent the sound of a gun being fired. 

3. Christer: According to Eric Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, "christer" -- ostensibly derived from a name being taken in vain -- was common among authors and typists in the 1920s.

4. Control: A real usage, apparently.

5. Dembanger: A real usage, hopefully.

6. Dog's cock: According to Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves, this is a term from British journalism. Which is unsurprising.

7. Dog's dick: A variation of the above, per several members of Carey's Twitter following, and per alliterative decency.

8. Gasper: This is also mentioned in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and ostensibly suggests the reader's reaction to the use of an exclamation point.

9. Pling: This comes from hacker culture -- and, in particular, one of the languages that sprang from it: "Commonwealth Hackish." It describes the exclamation when it's devoid of semantic meaning -- as, say, it might exist in passwords.

10. Screamer: Per Carey, and per Partridge, the term dates to around 1920 and was used mostly by "printers, authors, journalists, typists, and copy-writers."

11. Shriek/Shriekmark: According to Partridge -- per Carey -- this term also enjoyed colloquial use among authors and typists.

12. Shout pole: It's a thing, per the always exclamation-inducing Urban Dictionary.

13. Slammer: Also goes by "slammy," or simply "slam."

14. Smash: A rare usage, per this dictionary

15. Soldier: Also rare, and used in hacker culture.

16. Spark-spot: A jokey term introduced by the parody programming language INTERCAL.

17. Startler: A fairly literal euphemism cited in Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

18. Wonderer: In his Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (2nd ed), David Crystal notes that the 16th-century spelling reformer John Hart called colons "joints," question marks "askers," and exclamation points "wonderers." Which suggests a gentle usage which the marks have surely evolved away from today!!!

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.


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