Part of my job these days is to answer emails. Lots and lots of emails. I spend a lot of time thinking about my tone in response, and I have come to the conclusion that the exclamation mark is my blessing, and my curse.
Not so long ago, I was on the receiving end of those emails. Agonising over every single punctuation mark, tone and inference. Did they take me seriously? Was the content relevant? Am I beginning to sound circumlocutory?
I threw the question out there into my virtual Colosseum: Facebook. Most responses came from my female friends who offered up a similarly repugnant alternative. The smiley face.
Just as I was resigning myself to a world of vomiting emojis (to convey my displeasure) an authoritative DM popped up in my window. “Don’t use emoticons. Nothing undermines your credibility more. I cannot stress this to you enough.”
Here was someone with a real opinion! “Let me mansplain it to you,” he said.
Woman will be undermined if she uses emoticons because of “bullshit societal things.”
Goddamit. Here I was thinking my cute little smiley faces were injecting warmth into a cold, hard workspace and that my exclamation points were conveying enthusiasm and energy! Nope. It’s just one of those things women do. We also like to sit around with our warm fuzzy slippers on, sipping cups of tea, clutching onto our hot water bottles, pontificating about the paleo diet.
And then it hit me like a mid-afternoon Tim Tam between the eyes. A revelation.
The same thing that plagues us in the virtual world also haunts us in reality. We still want to be liked, and considered NICE people. Even if your recipient is an auto-bot with a singular goal of selling you more shampoo.
Men don’t care that much about tone. My husband doesn’t sit around consumed by a crippling inability to write because he might come off as… bitchy. And it doesn’t happen with just email. Did you see what happened to that politician who tried to use an exclamation point in his campaign slogan and failed dismally? An exclamation mark won’t give you a personality, Jeb. Lesson learned.
The UK Board of Education is taking the battle with the exclamation mark to another level. They came out with an edict saying primary school students will only be able to use the exclamation mark in a sentence beginning with “How” or “What”.
“A sentence that ends in an exclamation mark, but which does not have one of the grammatical patterns shown above, is not considered to be creditworthy as an exclamation,” the document states.
Every single email I sent out today would’ve received a primary school fail (in the UK anyway). But look. We’re not a bunch of stiff British school boarders. I like to think that in Australia, when we say “business casual” we mean it.
So where did I end up on my syntax journey? I have decided not to axe the exclamation. Like laxatives, painkillers and chocolate biscuits, it will all be used in moderation. One per email. Probably in the greeting. (ie. Hi!) Not in conjunction with an emoticon. Book-ended with a “Cheers”.
In short, I would shave a bit of credibility off for some cheerfulness, any damn day.
Are there any email habits that bother you?
Lisa Wilkinson and Mamamia’s own Georgina Dent have some tips on email etiquette. See the video below…