It’s a word I’d never heard until now. Ecphonesis is a noun pronounced “ek-fuh–nee-sis”. Try saying that a few times and not falling in love with the word.
Ecphonesis is an emotional, exclamatory phrase used in poetry, drama, or song and is used along with the exclamation point (!).
Edgar Allan Poe used ecphonesis in “The Tell-Tale Heart:”
Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! –they suspected! –they knew! –they were making a mockery of my horror! -this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now –again! –hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!
“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! here, here! –It is the beating of his hideous heart!”
Such use of exclamation points brings real feeling into the passage. It doesn’t denote yelling, vehemence, protest, or complaint, rather emotion. It shows investment in what is being said.
What about GIFs?
In a world brimming with communication channels, it is more important now than ever to project the real feelings and motives behind your words. To help humanity with this challenge emoticons, emojis, stickers, memes and animated GIFs have been integrated into our computers and mobile phones. But these are not considered professional (yet…) and shouldn’t be used in business communications.
A 2015 study from Binghamton University showed that messages ending with a period are perceived to be less sincere than messages that do not. In the study, punctuation was found to influence the perceived meaning of messages.
Binghamton gave test subjects a variety of differently punctuated messages. Other social and contextual cues were removed from the messages so that the only difference was punctuation.
The study concluded that even though most of the important social and contextual cues were missing, the sincerity of the messages was evaluated differently depending on the presence or absence of an exclamation point. Messages ending with a period were perceived to be less sincere than messages ending with no punctuation, and messages ending with an exclamation point were perceived as more sincere than those with no punctuation.
Notice the different feel these emails give:
- “I’m excited for the meeting later today. We will be discussing the progress we’ve made. Everyone should come prepared with their thoughts on the attached income report. We will meet at 3:00 in my office.
See you there.”
- “I’m excited to meet with the team later today! We will be discussing the progress we’ve made. Everyone should come prepared with their thoughts on the attached income report. We will meet at 3:00 in my office.
See you there!”
I don’t know about you, but when someone sends the message, “I’m excited.” I’m left thinking, ‘Are you though?’
But, when someone sends the message, “I’m excited!” The response is more like, ‘Yeah, me too! What are we excited about?!’
Exclamation points show commitment. They show that you’re not afraid of the vulnerability of enthusiasm. They project your enthusiasm to others and can infect them with the same. They uplift an otherwise dreary piece of text.
Enough is Enough
Yet, it’s still important to practice moderation. How would you feel if you received this email?
- “I’m excited!! We’re going to meet with the team later today! We will be discussing the progress we’ve made! Everyone should come prepared with their thoughts! And check out the attached income report! We will meet at 3:00 in my office!
See you there!!!”
If I received this email, my response would be something along the lines of, ‘Yikes, calm down there. It’s Monday morning, and I haven’t even finished my coffee!’
Double exclamations have no place in a work email. There are no excuses. When you use them, one and only one exclamation point is what you want.
One or two exclamation points per email will adequately project your enthusiasm and emotion. More than that and you might just come off as a young and inexperienced, exclamation-happy writer.
“We sometimes rely on [exclamation points] far too heavily when what we really need to do is go back to our words and try to make them convey more precisely what we’re trying to say,” writes Beth Dunn of HubSpot, a cloud marketing software company. “Don’t ask punctuation to do a word’s job, is what we’re saying. If you do, it will dilute your message, make you look unprofessional, and leave you with nowhere to go when you actually do need an exclamation mark.”
The exclamation point indicates enthusiasm, but only words can specifically prove it. Which of these sounds more sincere?
“Thank you so much for this. You have gone above and beyond, and I won’t forget it!”
Trust your instincts. When you finish composing an email, look over your work. How many exclamation points have you used?
If it “feels” like you overdid it, then you did.
Remember this when it comes to an exclamation point:
Use it when you’re genuinely excited about something, but lose it when you’re excited about everything. Use it when you need to lighten the mood, but lose it when you’re being stern. Use it for friendly correspondence, but lose it when you’re aiming to be strictly professional. Use it once or twice per email but never more than that.