Slight as a cat’s eyelash,
one black mark
graces the page,
piquing my curiosity. O
how it pulses, as if
rendered in neon—
this exclamation point
to an angel,
in the gospel of Luke.
Printers call these marks gaspers, screamers, startlers. Many editors view them as lazy shortcuts. Or overkill. “Never expect punctuation to animate flabby prose.”
As a writer, this is my world. Render passion, yes; but ration those exclamation points. Say, one every six months. (Or every book and a half, as Elmore Leonard advises.)
In the NIV translation, Gabriel gets one—but not where we might expect it.
“Greetings,” he says.
This salutation alone—from a celestial being—seems worthy of emphasis. However, rigorous scholars inserted a comma, then continued the sentence: “. . . you who are highly favored!”
For Mary, a knee-quaking moment.
For you and me, millennia later,
That’s because highly favored means “to make graceful, to endow with grace.”
Mary embodied in-the-moment receptiveness to God.
As we welcome God, we too become highly favored, our lives affirmed. Transformed. Made grace-full.
Exclamation points, over time . . .
First used in English in the 15th century, they were considered “notes or signs of admiration,” perhaps from the Latin root for wonderment.
In the Greek word for joy, io, the “i” is written above the “o.” The forerunner, perhaps?
In our day exclamation points proliferate in online communications and may indicate surprise, excitement, anger, and other strong emotions. Peruse Luke (in the NIV version) and you’ll find them accentuating promises, warnings, complaints, interjections, exhortations, chastisements, praises, and pleas.
I counted 36 in all—again, not always where I expected them. Surprisingly, the humble period appears when Jesus cleanses the temple. And when the entire heavenly host sings “Glory to God in the highest.”
To this day, consulting scholars, clergy, and other professionals continue to translate the Bible. They peer into, and pore over, the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts.
They parse grammar. Argue semantics. Assign emphasis.
No matter how we punctuate
this story, older than our world
yet still fresh as the rain,
how radically Love arrives, to upend,
upset, even overturn
our sense of self,
our hopes, and
our flawed expectations.
Where are the living exclamation points appearing in your life this month? Wonderment is contagious. I hope you’ll share one . . .
You might also enjoy the Smithsonian’s take on the exclamation mark
And speaking of strong emotions: Holidays, Saying Yes to Unexpected Gifts!
There’s even a blog about them: Excessive Exclamation!!
“Yes” Photo: John Tyson on Unsplash.