Thursday 18 January 2018

An analysis of Donald Trump's enduring love affair with the exclamation mark

By Prudence Wade

It’s undoubtedly the shoutiest of all the punctuation.

At the end of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, Prudence Wade leaves policy by the wayside to get to the bottom of the US President’s obsession with the exclamation mark.

Like Bert and Ernie or peanut butter and jelly, nothing goes together quite like Donald Trump and Twitter.

One thing that seems to unite his tweets is a love of the exclamation mark. Since Trump’s inauguration alone, he has fired out 512 tweets, 272 of which include an “!” as of Friday afternoon.

What does liberal use of exclamation marks achieve? It’s easy to dismiss it as Trump’s way of shouting just a little bit louder via social media. But is there more to it?

We spoke with Dr Paul Breen, Senior Lecturer in Academic English at Westminster Professional Language Centre, to find out a bit more about Trump’s relationship with the exclamation mark.

What Trump might hope to achieve

According to Merriam-Webster, an exclamation point is used “especially after an interjection or exclamation to indicate forceful utterance or strong feeling”. So it seems Trump has a whole lot of strong feelings – but what does he want to put across with the shoutiest of punctuation?

Data journalists at NBC News studied the exclamation marks in Trump’s tweets and found that he most often uses them in two scenarios: to announce an event or dismiss a person or idea.

For the first scenario, Breen thinks it often serves to big up his administration’s work.

And then, there are those tweets that are slightly more targeted.

It can now be safely assumed that Trump is not a fan of Snoop Dogg’s classic anthem “Drop it like it’s hot.”

What does an excess of exclamation marks achieve?

Breen thinks that an overuse of exclamations means that we have become immune to their intended effect.

Instead of cherry-picking his messages, Trump tries to make everything he tweets seem important and urgent, according to Breen, but that means that nothing stands out.

Breen also thinks it harms his image by making Trump seem less statesmanlike. “Because he hasn’t got the ability to actually come out with the really powerful soundbites,” he explains, “he then overcompensates with a huge use of exclamations.”

What it says about his personality

For Breen, Trump’s love of the exclamation mark reflects the president’s perception of the importance of what he has to say.

“I think it’s largely because he thinks everything he says is quite important, so it emphasises its self-importance,” Breen said.

“He’s full of his own self-importance, but at the same time I think there is an element of insecurity there as well.”

Exclamation marks can be seen as an attempt to make yourself heard, to elevate what you’re saying. But, of course, as President of the United States, Trump already has a large audience for anything and everything he says.

How social media facilitates over-exclaiming

Social media sites, particularly ones that urge brevity like Twitter, seem to encourage exclamations. With so many people tweeting, reverting to exclamation marks to emphasise what you are saying can make your tweet stand out.

Trump tweets far more than most other world leaders, and exclamations serve to add urgency and importance to what he’s saying amongst the sheer volume of tweets.

Breen believes the nature of communication in the digital age contributes to a simplification of debate.

He said: “We do now have a tendency to want to be heard in very few words, and often that can lack depth.”

With that in mind, perhaps the best thing to do is pay more attention to what Trump says than what he tweets.

Press Association

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