One exclamation point is enough, thanks!

Imagine if each of us were to be doled out a set of exclamation points at birth, and once we used up our allotment, that was it. No more. That was an idea a writer friend once advanced, and I think it makes more sense than 99 percent of what comes out of Congress.

The exclamation point (!, also known to printers as a “bang”) is a most powerful punctuation tool. Place one on the end of a simple declarative sentence, and it takes on a whole new level of excitement or urgency. Say “I need your help,” and the hearer might sashay your way. Say “I need your help!,” and she’ll run to your rescue.

That kind of power is why some people like to stick exclamation points at the end of nearly every sentence they write. They mistakenly believe that those exclamation points make their messages more commanding or important. But actually, they just make you sound like you’re ranting.

Others assume that if one exclamation point makes a sentence more powerful, using two or three really ups the intensity. Actually, using one is a little like raising your voice just below a shout. But using three is like yelling, waving your arms and jumping up and down on one foot. You’ll get attention, all right, but for all the wrong reasons.

I like to think of exclamation points as the cayenne pepper of writing. A touch here and there adds heat and flavor to your words. But add too many, and you won’t be able concentrate on the taste of the food because you’ll be distracted by the heat.