Explained (2018) s01e10 Episode Script

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1 [narrator] Every day around the world, millions struggle with the same question: to exclamation point or not to exclamation point? Exclamation points are friendly.
But they can also be too friendly.
They show you're excited, but can also make it seem like you're shouting.
In a work email, they lighten the tone, but you can also look less serious.
And if you don't use exclamation points, sometimes you risk seeming mean.
You wrote, "Myra had the baby," but you didn't use an exclamation point.
[Narrator] Elaine once got dumped over it.
I would put exclamation points at the ends of all of these sentences! On this one and on that one! You can put one on this one: I'm leaving! [Narrator] The way they're perceived in a professional setting can vary widely depending on gender.
When sent by a female co-worker, nearly half of male respondents found the use of exclamation points in this email to be very professional.
But when that same email was sent by a man, that number dropped significantly.
Humans are communicators and innovators.
We sent a man to the moon.
But we only have three ways to end a sentence.
Exclamation points are everywhere in popular culture, even though it's not totally clear what they mean.
Why is the exclamation point so confusing? And is there something better? [man 1] It's a bird! It's a plane!! - Don't do it for me.
Do it for the paper.
- Scram, Svengali! Where are the people? I am the greatest! [male announcer] This is Jeopardy! Keep America great, exclamation point! And they text to each other.
They don't need to know spelling.
Don't need grammar.
Only you can prevent forest fires! It's an exclamation point! It's a line with a dot under it.
[narrator] Who better to help us understand how to use an exclamation point than the high priests of punctuation: copy editors? And what better way to get the unvarnished truth than at a copy editor conference cocktail hour? Hey! Your team won the game.
That's fantastic! Egads! Holy shit! Or I'm pregnant! Or I got divorced! I'm not any of these things.
Wow.
You get one exclamation mark in your career.
Use it wisely.
In editing school, they told me to use them minimally.
And I didn't listen because I think they're dope.
If you use multiple exclamation marks, you sound like an overexcited 14-year-old.
Professional correspondence, I wouldn't use it more than two times.
I use the exclamation mark personally all the time.
Like, it's really egregious and I really need to get help for it.
[Narrator] But the question of how to use an exclamation point used to be simple.
You put exclamation points after exclamations.
Words like "lo," "hark," "behold" that are meant to grab the reader's attention.
The Italian poet Iacopo Alpoleio da Urbisaglia claimed to have invented it.
In the Renaissance, there was the sense of the contemporary culture being broken or decayed, and needing to go back and find a better foundation for the arts and culture and society.
[narrator] And they turned to antiquity, to ancient Athens and Rome, and to orators like Cicero.
Da Urgisaglia decided to mark his exclamations to indicate the livelier way they should be read aloud.
He called his creation the punctus admirativus, or the punctus exclamativus.
[Weiskott] "I began noting the ends of such clauses with a plain punctus and a comma placed lengthwise above it.
" [Narrator] The new punctus took off and was used this way for centuries.
By the 1700s, the Spanish had standardized turning it upside down and also placing it out in front.
Missionaries and European colonial powers spread its use across the globe and on to dozens of languages.
But applying exclamation points to written traditions that didn't originally have them could be tricky.
When one of the great masterpieces of Old English, Beowulf, was rediscovered in the early 1800s, many editors debated whether or not to apply an exclamation point to the poem's first word.
[Narrator] What? [Weiskott] "Hwæt!" which means listen up, or, in rap music, it's kind of like "yo!" or "heyo!" [Narrator] Beowulf is a pretty different story depending on how you punctuate it.
Listen! We have heard about the glory of the Spear-Danes, the kings of tribes, in days of yore, how the noblemen performed brave deeds! If that exclamation point is there, the narrator is pretty jazzed about this past.
[Narrator] No other punctuation has the same power as the exclamation point to signal a feeling.
[Weiskott] By the time you get to the 18th century, people started using it not just for grammar, but also for tone.
"My friend! This conduct amazes me!" [Narrator] Great American authors, like Herman Melville, embrace the exclamation point to convey passion.
His classic, Moby Dick, had 1,683.
[man] "I can see that figure now pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn!" [Narrator] But then, after 1920, the exclamation point became uncool.
Writers are starting to associate the exclamation mark on the one hand, with the sensational headlines of the yellow press, and on the other, with the sentimental novels written by women.
[narrator] Like Mrs.
Southworth.
[Nunberg] In either case, the exclamation mark is unmanly.
It's disdained.
[narrator] And one of the most influential writers around this time was also one of the manliest, Ernest Hemingway.
The Old Man and the Sea had one.
Hemingway's contemporary F.
Scott Fitzgerald appears to have succumbed to the pressure.
In her memoir of their affair, Sheila Graham claimed Fitzgerald once told her, "Cut out all these exclamation points.
An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.
" It's an attitude that persists among writers even today.
[man] I think the exclamation point is a little useless.
It adds a sort of unnecessary weight to the end of a sentence.
And so I've steered away from them in my personal writing and my professional writing.
[Narrator] Writers may have shunned the exclamation point, but not everybody did.
Advertising took the exclamation point and ran with it, in order to get your attention to sell ya stuff.
From the 1930s to the 1940s and '50s, the number of print ads with exclamation points in them doubled.
And while advertising was having this love affair with the exclamation point, one of the most successful punctuation innovations was born: the interrobang.
[woman] There has never been a symbol that used both of them as one symbol.
It was always two or three pieces of type, which is pretty inelegant.
[Narrator] Penny and her late husband, Martin Speckter, ran a successful ad agency during the Mad Men era of advertising.
We met in September, got married in December.
I used to go dancing and drinking, and he didn't drink and he didn't dance.
So I had to find other interests.
One of those interests was working on a small typography magazine called Type Talks.
We were at dinner one night, and he was lacking four pages.
And all of a sudden, he thought of the interrobang.
So he called the art studio that we used, and he said, "Is anybody there around who can draw?" And we went over.
We were there till about three o'clock in the morning.
And he came up with a number of versions of the interrobang.
The name combined "interro" for interrogate and "bang" for exclamation point, a slang term that's said to have emerged from comic books.
[Narrator] Martin Speckter's interrobang got off to a promising start.
It was included in the popular font Americana and as an option on multiple typewriters.
It was even the title of a 1969 Italian erotic thriller.
Would you like to make love to him? What is this never-ending interrogation? Redesigning the exclamation point seemed like it might hold the solution.
"LET'S PLUCK THE BIRD" The French writer Hervé Bazin introduced the acclamation point, a demonstration of goodwill or welcome; the conviction point, if you need to say something with unwavering certainty; and the authority point, to share your sentence with a note of expertise.
But none of these, nor the interrobang, caught on, because they came too late.
A different design trend had already taken hold.
[Nunberg] The famous Doyle Dane ads for Volkswagen that popularized the Bug in the early 1960s went in absolutely the other direction.
[Narrator] VW ushered in simplicity and the period in direct opposition to competitors like Chevrolet.
In print ads, their usage plummeted, yet in TV shows based on comic books, they became iconic.
[Nunberg] You look at the original Batman show on television, where they're saying, "Wham," and little balloons are going up.
So we can appreciate these things always with you understanding that we really don't take them too seriously.
And that's what allows people to use it, but always with a sense of, "I don't really mean this.
" Exclamation points appeared in the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein, popular musical titles, and for the first time, campaign slogans, until finally the bubble burst with satire.
Popular culture in thatperiod becomes almost an obsession of American culture, but always with one or another form of detachment.
It's ironic.
It's campy.
And this culture shift coincided with another: women's advancement in the workplace.
In a position of authority, a woman has two requirements to fulfill.
If she fulfills the expectations to be a good woman, she will be liked, but she will be underestimated.
If she fulfills the requirements of a manager or leader, she'll be respected, but she will probably be called that word that starts with "b.
" [Narrator] Periods were direct and could seem stern.
Exclamation points became code for nice.
I ask you, for example, "Do you want to go out tonight?" and you say, "Yeah.
" I don't think you really want to.
Yeah! You need to be enthusiastic to really mean it in writing.
If you don't have an exclamation point, it's like you don't mean it.
And for many women, in fact, you need multiple ones.
[Narrator] In a 2006 study, the only study ever done on this, nearly three-quarters of all exclamation points in online correspondence were used by women.
But that didn't mean the exclamation point didn't stop indicating passion or irony either or volume, commands, action, warning, surprise, and of course, exclamations, like the tweets of Donald Trump.
[Trump] During the day, if I'm in the office, I have a number of people that I'll just call out a tweet to.
- You call out, "Exclamation point!" - I do.
[Narrator] The exclamation point hasn't so much evolved over time so much as it's accumulated meaning.
[Parham] There's so many meanings that we've put onto it, right? And so it can kind of be anything, and in that sense, it's become kind of nothing.
[Narrator] Writing each other constantly over email, text, and social media, it's changed how we communicate, and in a lot of ways, the exclamation point is having a heyday on the internet.
[Parham] "Report: Kanye West is forced to move in with Kris Jenner by Kim Kardashian!" It's so ridiculous.
You'll see something like a Bossip or a Media Takeout headline that is totally exaggerated, which is also adopting this type of internet language and internet speak in a very unique and interesting way.
But online, it's just fun.
Let's just have some fun with it.
On Twitter, I'll put five exclamation points in a tweet just because it's, like it's kind of silly.
That's kind of the point too.
You're kind of trying to play up the emotion.
[Narrator] But online and on our phone, we now have lots of ways to convey tone.
[Tannen] Emoticons, emojis, memes, gifs.
All these ways of saying, "Don't take what I just said literally and don't think it's in any way negative.
" A lot of it is just showing goodwill, but now that there is so much conversation going on online that especially older people worry, and that's always been the case, they feel like this is license-plate language.
LOL, for example, or LMAO, laughing my butt off.
IDK for I don't know.
And many of us linguists point out we've always had that.
For example, FYI, ASAP.
But I think it's just the same process of language changing and adapting to the current needs.
Language and writing are supposed to be fluid, and it's supposed to be tenuous.
You're supposed to be able to stretch it.
But, in a lot of ways, the internet is still very new and young and sort of the Wild Wild West.
I think anything kind of goes.