How! What!

Keep out of reach of children.

In England, the exclamation mark, what in America is known as an exclamation point, has become a scourge on the language. It is misused, overused and abused and according to England’s Department for Education, mostly unfit for 7-year-olds to use.

In England, the exclamation mark has been deemed practically punctuation non grata.

The exclamation point is not all that well-considered in America either. Grammarians in the U.S. often look upon the mark much like the English do, which is to say much like the English look upon the Americans.

“I think to discourage the overuse of the exclamation point is something to be commended,” says Jordan Penn. Penn, a California investment firm executive, created The Punctuation Guide, a simple, almost elegant website dedicated to the wonders of periods (“full stops” in the United Kingdom), semicolons, brackets and exclamation points. “I just wonder if the way they’re doing it, is really the most effective way,” he adds.

Mignon Fogarty agrees. Known online as the Grammar Girl, Fogarty is generally more agreeable to the exclamation point than many. She will in fact, defend its use to the English.

Britannia Rules.

“The rule that they’re proposing just isn’t a real rule,” she says. “When you force children to learn things that aren’t actually rules, some subset of those children will actually carry that with them for the rest of their lives.”

England’s DfE told teachers last month, that in testing primary school students, (elementary school kids to Americans,) credit for the proper use of the exclamation mark can be given only when a sentence begins with the words “How” or “What.”

So, in the bureaucrats’ example, “What big teeth you have, Grandma!” is correct.

“How beautiful Cinderella looks in that dress!” Correct.

“Watch out for that falling piano!” Incorrect.

“That’s a ridiculous rule!” Incorrect.

“My guess is, when putting together a standardised test, it’s always easier to have strict rules because it makes grading easier,” Fogarty says.

(P.S. Well it is their language(!).)



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