It is no news that the person I call the presumptuous Republican nominee for president likes to use exclamation points in his tweets. Take a look at a tranche of his Twitter feed:
One might think this would be common punctuation on Twitter. One would be mistaken. Of the 50 most recent non-Trump tweets in my feed, only two contained exclamation points. (More commonly, a sort of humorous emphasis is added through ALL CAPS.) But for Trump, this is not only a trademark bit of Twitter punctuation; he also has a trademark one-word-sentence-exclamation-point combo:
This is not to say that exclamation points aren’t common in other genres. They are de rigueur in text messages and short emails and Facebook comments, so much so that responding “Great.” instead of “Great!” to an invitation for drinks can come off as decidedly unenthusiastic and possibly sarcastic. For what it’s worth, a 2006 academic study of an electronic message board and an email list found that females used exclamation points more often than males, and that the marks commonly “function as markers of friendly interaction.”
In literature, this punctuation mark has not had the greatest reputation. Sheilah Graham recalled that F. Scott Fitzgerald cut all of them out of a piece of writing she showed him, explaining, “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.” They did find a home in comic books, which were deemed to need a hyperactive tone and got it via punctuation (as well as onomatopœic coinages and heavy use of boldface type).
Exclamations had a moment in the sun in the 1960s, first in the titles of musical comedies: Oliver!; Hello, Dolly!; Fiorello!; and the doubled-barreled I Do! I Do! and Oh! Calcutta! (That was probably why the “Jeb!” on Jeb Bush’s signs gave his campaign the faint feel of a musical that closed in Philadelphia.) Then Tom Wolfe started using exclamation points — along with italics and ellipses and how own invented words, like swock — as an ironic way of evoking both his characters’ consciousness and the supercharged zeitgeist. Here’s part of his description of Baby Jane Holzer in his 1964 profile “The Girl of the Year":
Her hair rises up from her head in a huge hairy corona, a huge tan mane around a narrow face and two eyes opened — swock! — like umbrellas, with all that hair flowing over a coat made of ... zebra! Those motherless stripes! Oh, damn!
Getting back to Trump, his use of this punctuation isn’t limited to tweets. In his 1997 book, The Art of the Comeback, he wrote, “If I told the real stories of my experiences with women, often seemingly very happily married and important women, this book would be a guaranteed best-seller (which it will be anyway!).”
The “statements” issued on his website often work their way up to a closing exclamation. Here was his response after Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said he wasn’t “ready” to make a Trump endorsement:
I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda. Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people. They have been treated so badly for so long that it is about time for politicians to put them first!
I spoke to the co-author of The Art of the Comeback, Kate Bohner, and she said about Trump, “He speaks in exclamation points. There was not a traditional intercom system in his office.” She said that when he wanted to summon his assistant, Rhona Graff, he would just shout, at the top of his lungs, “Rhona! Get in here!”
In the 18th century, the Comte de Buffon observed, “Style is the man himself.” His point was that a person’s writing style does, or should, reveal essential parts of his or her character. It would seem that Donald J. Trump has achieved such a unity.
Next: Trump’s use of Crazy Bernie Sanders, Lyin’ Ted, Goofy Elizabeth Warren, Crooked Hillary, and his single-handed revival of the Homeric epithet!