The David Beckham of Punctuation

Next time you’re planning to book the Kennedy Center for a stand-up comedy show, remember one thing: you can use the F-word a maximum of 41 times.

This isn’t my observation, of course. It belongs to comic Lewis Black, who says he wasn’t allowed to record an HBO special at the venue because someone at the theater had seen a video of his act and counted the number of F-words in it.

There were 42.

Black switched to another Washington venue where the F-word quota is much higher. You can say the F-word 97 times there.

I have sympathy for the Kennedy Center. Not because of the F-word – I think it’s OK to use it when the circumstances are right.

No, for me, it’s exclamation marks.

When I read a newsletter, I count them. My maximum is set at a draconian three.

You see, exclamation marks are the David Beckham of punctuation.

You know Beckham. He’s the English soccer superstar married to the thinnest Spice Girl. He plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

And, so they say, he’s a fashion icon.

Not to me though.

I think he tries too hard. There’s just a little too much bling. A touch too much Gucci.

He’s like the restaurant that puts real gold flakes on your dessert.

Or the guy who winks when he makes a joke.

Or the writer who puts an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence to show enthusiasm.

Now don’t get me wrong.

Exclamation marks are fine in some circumstances. I scatter them myself in personal correspondence. And of course they’re OK when used properly, such as in commands, “Shut up!” and, naturally, exclamations, “Wow!”

But using them in other circumstances reeks of amateur desperation.


“It’s going to be your best vacation ever!!!”

“My new hair-care product will make your locks shine!!!!”

“On our dating website you’ll meet the girl of your dreams!!!!!”

When I see exclamation marks like this, I think “yeah, right.”

What the writer really means is: “Here’s something that, if I’m going to be frank with you, is pretty mediocre, but if I’m trying very hard to be super-enthusiastic so that my enthusiasm overwhelms your powers of judgment.”

That’s not the message you want your newsletters to convey.