On Exclamation Points & Being Alive

On a yellow canister of Domino’s sugar, in red italic letters, there were two words:

Recloseable Spout!

I looked at it for a moment. It is fascinating that we use the same punctuation mark to say, I got into med school! and We’re getting married! as we do 24-Hour BOGO Sale! and Recloseable Spout!

Tight-laced grammarians may wring their hands. We cannot be tossing this punctuation mark around willy-nilly, they may argue. It is bad enough that people use ‘love’ to describe their heart’s deepest affection for a soul mate and their feelings about tuna melts and the cafe’s wifi speed. Is nothing sacred? (Which is often a bit of code for, “Do not change!”)

I had some of that in me as I looked at the Domino’s canister and thought about a recent email announcing that a friend was cancer free!

But exclamation points, periods, commas, colons and the words they punctuate are sacred; they are tools of human expression. And they must be dynamic enough, adaptable enough, unfussy enough to contain human experience. If we preserve them like the Magna Carta or Rosetta Stone, they stop being tools and start becoming artifacts.

Words and punctuation marks are meant to help capture what it means to be alive at this point in time. Their ever-shifting usage speaks to the ever-shifting nature of being alive.

So, I say, go ahead: love your daughter and the smell of that dish soap. Go to the Baby Shower! and while you’re there, eat Chips Ahoy!.

Let’s put these tools to work! If they aren’t serving us, let’s bend them and break them into something that gets closer to capturing this incapturably sacred thing we call living.

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