The only literary work about punctuation I’m aware of is an odd early story by Anton Chekhov called “The Exclamation Mark.” After getting into an argument with a colleague about punctuation, a school inspector named Yefim Perekladin asks his wife what an exclamation point is for. She tells him it signifies delight, indignation, joy and rage. He realizes that in 40 years of writing official reports, he has never had the need to express any of those emotions.
As Perekladin obsesses about the mark, it becomes an apparition that haunts his waking life, mocking him as an unfeeling machine. In desperation, he signs his name in a visitors book and puts three exclamation points after it. All of a sudden, Chekhov writes, “He felt delight and indignation, he was joyful and seethed with rage.”
Yefim Perekladin, c’est moi! At least, I used to be one of those people who use the exclamation point as sparingly as possible. We’ll grudgingly stick one in after an interjection or a sentence like “What a jerk!” but never to punch up an ordinary sentence in an essay or email. We say we’re saving them for special occasions, but they never seem to arise.
Read more: NPR