Exclamation Points

Try our new filtered water bottle refill system!!!

So read the electronic message board in front of a local grocery store that I drove by recently.

Not to be negative, but I couldn’t help wondering how anyone gets that excited about water. Filtered or otherwise, it’s just not that exciting. At least not exciting enough to warrant three exclamation points.

Maybe it would be different if the store were located in, say, Flint, Michigan or some other place where filtered water has become a necessity and where a bottle refill system would make it easier for people to meet their daily need for potable H2O over the long term. In that situation, the message would serve the public good by letting folks know that another option exists for refilling their bottles with filtered water.

But even that fails to justify the use of three exclamation points.

In fact, if you live in a place where the tap water is not safe to drink and you must rely on filtered and/or bottled water, an electronic sign in front of your local grocery store bearing the words Try our new filtered water bottle refill system!!! may not be a welcome sight. It would be perceived, I imagine, as more of a cruel taunt rather than a helpful suggestion. Because context matters, and multiple exclamation points suggest a level of enthusiasm that people might not appreciate when they have been forced to drink, cook, and bathe with bottled water for months on end. And so the use of three exclamation points even in that situation might be considered inappropriate and perhaps more than a little insensitive.

To be honest, even two exclamation points would be excessive in this case and in almost any other. In fact, unless the store has been inundated with requests from legions of people calling for a filtered water bottle refill system, and the management is themselves THRILLED beyond reason to finally have the means to meet this demand, there really is no excuse for using more than one exclamation point.

Now some folks might say that even one exclamation point is excessive given the content of the message, and that a period would have been sufficient. On this point let me be clear: These people are insane. As any marketing major knows—and I’m sure Elaine from Seinfeld would agree—any message that is important enough to appear on an electronic sign outside of a store—even a grocery store—is important enough to be accompanied by an exclamation point. Period.

Just kidding. I’m nowhere near finished…

In truth, I’m not sure the message about the filtered water bottle refill system is exciting enough to warrant a mention on electronic signage. Seems to me that the store could have found something more worthy of mention on that sign. Doughnuts, for example. A sale on rotisserie chicken, perhaps. Or even, a message welcoming a new employee or castigating someone for writing bad checks. Something other than an announcement about a filtered water bottle refill system. Please.

It would be different if the message had the word “FREE” in there somewhere. Free filtered water is definitely worthy of three exclamation points. Then again, free ANYTHING is worthy of three exclamation points. And it would definitely entice more people to enter the store than a filtered water bottle refill system, regardless of how many exclamation points you slap on the end!!!

Despite the foregoing, I can understand the temptation to overuse punctuation. I myself once became so enamored with the quotation mark that I lost control of my senses, and used it with such abandon in one assignment in school that literally every other word appeared in quotes. Of course, I was in first grade and didn’t understand the purpose of a “quotation mark” as Mrs. Roehl was kind enough to “point” out. I just thought they looked “nice” around all the great “words” I was including in my “story.”

Apparently not a lot has changed since then.