Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Scream and Scream Again

I can remember exactly what I was doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. At 9:25 a.m., en route to my 9:30 English 101 class in Beckham Hall, I was headed out the door of Britt Hall when a colleague returning from her 8:00 class asked if I’d heard anything about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. I hadn’t. I had a class to teach.

After I checked roll, I asked my students if they’d heard anything. One remembered hearing something on the radio before he left his dorm but didn’t really know anything. We speculated that either a small plane’s pilot got lost or a nut-case tried to make a statement. Class went on as scheduled.

In 2001, you couldn’t get cell-phone reception at Ferrum College. The tower on Ferrum Mountain wouldn’t be built for another year. On this bright almost-fall day, we were cut off from the rest of the world. We were safe in a bucolic setting. Life went on as usual.

After class, a few minutes after I’d returned to my office, my phone rang. A student told me to get to a TV—something horrible had happened.

Many classes were cancelled; many students left campus to go home. Life wouldn’t be “usual’ for a long time.

Somehow this print is appropriate for today.

Edvuard Munch’s 1893 print “The Scream,” which was stolen and recovered in 1994, is considered an icon by some. Now for the English lesson (class will go on as usual):

The print always reminds me of an exclamation point, a punctuation mark that screams in dialogue usually require:
“ARRRGGGGHHHHHH!’ she screamed.

See? It’s really hard to show a scream without an exclamation point (which can also be called an exclamation mark).

The 1993 Columbia Guide to Standard American English by Kenneth G. Wilson (1923–), tells you more than you probably want to know about exclamation points:

The exclamation point (!) is the punctuation mark used to give the sort of emphasis to a word, phrase, or sentence that suggests loud, vigorous, forthright delivery. Never! Free at last! Never darken my door again! In English it always goes at the end of the locution to be emphasized. But stridency is seldom approved in speech, and so in writing too, be sparing of the exclamation point. Rely on your words, not your punctuation, to make your passion ring forth.

The above explanation sounds a bit hoity-toity. This one is better:

Sometimes called the exclamation mark, the exclamation point is used at the end of a sentence or after an interjection to show strong emotion or emphasis.

Exclamatory sentence: The rain did not stop for four days!

Strong command: Be back at ten o'clock or else!

Interjection: Wow!

When an emphatic interjection or direct address begins a sentence, you may use an exclamation point or a comma, depending on how much you want to show the strong emotion.

Correct: No, I don't want to go there.

Correct, more emotion: No, I don't want to go there!

Correct, even more emphasis: No! I don't want to go there!

If one exclamation point is good, a whole bunch of them isn’t. Six exclamation points, for instance, don’t make a sentence six times more emphatic. In fact, too many of the little suckers (and they do look like upside-down suckers, don’t they?) make a sentence less meaningful.

Even though I know that, I sometimes use a bunch. Not often. Once in a while. Really!!!

I’ve heard speakers at writers’ workshops say to use an exclamation point maybe once every hundred thousand words. Those speakers must not write very exciting stuff.

Sometimes you can put an exclamation point inside parentheses to show irony. It’s better, though, to convey your tone through your word choice and your writing style. Offhand, I can’t even think of a good example. Not even on a day as filled with ironies as this one is.

Anyhow, today—September 11—will always be one of history's exclamation points.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Becky,
To add to the "scream" for September 11.....One year ago today, Hilda's husband, my brother, Larry, died. Dougle-scream for me. Inspite of it all, have a nice day. Peggy

11:06 AM  
Blogger Amy Hanek said...

Nicely done. I had just started my diet and when I turned on the TV that morning, I picked up a bag of potato chips and munched away. My kids were small and I felt lost and unsure. We were living near Disney at the time and wondered if Walt Disney World was in danger of attack.
I hope we can remember the good today. The good people that helped. The good people that were lost in such a tragedy.

BTW: I have always felt that too many exclamation points are a faux pas. No one yells ALL the time. I agree!

12:25 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

I think we all remember where we were on September 11th.

10:52 PM  

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