To the Point (!?!?!?)

May 27, 2019 § 11 Comments

mark10218By Mark Budman

As a writer, I should like all the twenty six letters of the English alphabet and all fourteen punctuation marks equally. But I confess: I love the question mark and hate the exclamation point. The question mark to me is a symbol of thoughtful independence: you are not afraid to challenge, to disagree, to doubt authority. The exclamation point is brute strength, the belief in self-righteousness, the naked power of assertiveness and dominance.

The question mark learns while the exclamation point is a know-all. The question mark is adaptive while the exclamation point is a ramrod, unyielding. At the aesthetics’ front, the question mark may not have the military posture of the exclamation point, but its sinuous curves should appeal to anyone who values flexibility, and the possibility of compromise over a front attack. The exclamation point is a zero-sum game, but with the question mark, everyone wins.

The question mark: are we on the same page? The exclamation point: no way! The question mark: are you sure? The exclamation point: I’m always sure!

It’s hard to believe they both are lowly punctuation marks, cousins to period, comma, semicolon, colon, dash, hyphen, parentheses, brackets, braces, apostrophe, quotation marks, and ellipsis. But to each its own. Down with the exclamation point! Or long live the question mark? What is your answer? Insist on what you want! Or maybe question the wisdom of unbridled freedoms?

Should I expand my thoughts on this point as a reader and a human being?  And should I be less emotional than hating or loving something immaterial, let alone tiny? Today our society is polarized on most if not all fronts. Ideological? Check. Spiritual? Check. Family? Check. Friendship? Check. Love? Check. Hatred? Triple check. Religion? Don’t even ask!

But even in the world at large exclamation point is a sign of conformity. You agree with the prevailing thoughts 100%! Anything less than one hundred is a suspect! In agreement with an opinion less than one hundred percent? You are not ideologically pure! Fight! Resist! But maybe someone can and should conduct, too? Everyone who studied physics knows that there is no electric circuitry without both resistor and conductor. Like a country or society or even family, it would stop without one or the other. Why insist on purity if it’s descriptive and proscriptive? Why promote the orthodoxy if it’s physically impossible? And don’t forget, it’s divisive, too!

Good grammar needs all the punctuation marks. They all carry their weight. A truly pluralistic society needs all opinions, however ugly. Who is there to decide which opinion has a right to exist and which doesn’t? I can’t! Can you? As long as even a violent opinion is resolutely separated from the violent action, it should not be crossed out. And that’s the whole point of freedom and democracy, expressed in the grammatically correct fashion.

Mark Budman is a first generation immigrant. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Witness, Five Points, Guernica/PEN, American Scholar, Huffington Post,  Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press to wide critical acclaim.




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