"PLEASE LET US KNOW HOW WE DID!!!" reads a receipt from the Carl's Jr. Drive Thru. "HAVE A GREAT DAY!!!" exclaims a Toyota service center receipt. "TOILET PAPER ONLY IN TOILET!!" says a sign in a public restroom.
Courtesy of a blog called Excessive Exclamation, these examples intend to illustrate how overused exclamation marks have become. Like the boy who cried wolf, the anti-exclamation crowd argues, constant shouting in written communication detracts from the meaning of our words. Some signs featured on the blog include six or more exclamation marks.
But exclamation marks don't necessarily indicate the end of the linguistic world as we know it, some experts say. Language is always changing, and exclamation marks are just one example of how we alter the way we speak and write to foster social connections and adapt to changing modes of communication.
"Language changes," said Naomi Baron, a linguist at American University In Washington, D.C., and author of "Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World." "If everyone else is doing it, no matter what you believe you should do, you end up doing it, too. In e-mails, I find myself using far more single exclamation points than I would three or four years ago, because everyone else does it to me."
Back in the olden days, in the early 2000s, when texting was only called SMS and ubiquitous iPhones were still years away, mobile phone messages were nearly devoid of exclamation marks because typing in any kind of punctuation was a huge pain, Baron said.
It took tapping through several screens to get to the periods and apostrophes, so typing phrases like "I will" was easier than shortening to "I'll." As a result, text communication was actually more formal than casual speech.
Around that time, instant messaging was more popular than texting in the United States. And even though punctuation is easily accessible on computer keyboards, abbreviations and emoticons were scarce in early IMs, Baron found in a 2003 study. In general, people used IM's to say what they wanted to say.
With their larger screens and keyboards, smartphones made it much easier to add punctuation, emoticons and more recently, emoji characters. These symbols of emotion spread quickly, particularly among teenage girls.
Studies, including Baron's work, repeatedly show that girls and young women in a variety of countries use their phones for strengthening social connections more often than boys do. Girls also use more exclamation points and emoticons. In interviews, Baron said, teenage girls have complained that the texts they received from boys didn't express enough emotion.
"They meant they weren't using exclamation marks and smileys at the end," Baron said. "They weren't showing they cared about this communication in ways females tended to care about it."
In journalistic writing, guidelines for using exclamation marks have remained the same for many years, said David Minthorn, co-editor of the AP Stylebook. The general principle is to proceed with caution and use the extra punctuation in quotes only when truly warranted.
"We don't use very many exclamation points and the reasoning is that the words themselves should, in most cases, suffice," Minthorn said. "Our basic guidance is to limit them to express a high degree of surprise, incredulity or other strong emotions."
Social networking is not confined by such rules. And in their campaigns against exclamation points, some language purists have theorized that people are using more exclamatory punctuation in their texts and e-mails because they're not spending as much time together, face-to-face.
But it's equally possible that the exploding use of exclamation marks is simply another example of how written communication has become more informal in recent years.
Language experiences trends, much like fashion does, Baron said. Today, professional women wear pants. Teenage girls wear short skirts. And just about all of us pepper our messages with exclamation marks.
Next year, the fashions may very well change. By responding to people the same way they communicate with us, we bond.
People also show a sophisticated ability to tailor their writing to various modes of communication. On Twitter, for example, exclamation marks and emoticons are used far less often than in texts or other contexts.
"If we lose the ability to think through carefully what we say, that compromises language and the potential power of human interactions," Baron said. But "there can be lots of power in emotional markers. They're not necessarily a bad thing."