the current

New U.K. rules spur outrage! over student use of exclamation marks

The punctuation mark can set off a fight between people and raise their voices to exclamation mark levels! The Current's esteemed panel of language lovers debates the use of the exclamation mark in response to a new U.K. crackdown in schools.
Poet Priscila Uppal says lazy use of exclamation marks can damage human relationships. (rgbstock)
Listen19:53

Read story transcript

In response to a new U.K. crackdown in schools over abusing exclamation marks, The Current's panelist George Elliott Clarke ponders what punctuation is appropriate when declaring war, both make a point. He critiques the Iraq invasion as an example. 0:56

If the punctuation mark's proliferation has got you declaring "enough is enough!" (exclamation mark warranted), then you're hardly alone. 

In the U.K., new rules for school children have been designed to curb the exclamation mark's use. Young students must show they can produce four different types of sentence: statement, question, command and exclamation. And if using an exclamation, the sentence must begin with "how" or "what" and include a verb. If students don't follow the rules, they will be assessed as working below the expected standard.

Example: "What a wonderful day this is!" or "What a fantastic day that was!"

To debate the use or abuse of the exclamation mark in life, The Current convened an esteemed panel of language lovers: 

  • Priscila Uppal, poet and professor of English at York University.
  • Tom Howell, author of The Rude Story of English, an ex-lexicographer, and co-host of CBC'sIdeas from the Trenchesseries.
  • George Elliott Clarke, Canada's parliamentary poet laureate who teaches English literature at the University of Toronto.
European parliament deputies vote! against a modification in the Hungarian constitution to reinforce the power of the government, March 12, 2013. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

Are you a serial exclamation mark user or do you think exclamation mark use has gotten out of control? What's your favourite punctuation mark?

Send us an email, find us on Facebook or tweet us @TheCurrentCBC to share your thoughts on this.

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley and Marc Apollonio.