Thanks, And Thanks!

We got into a discussion the other day about proper etiquette when it comes to the ubiquitous “thanks” email in the workplace.  Put aside the fact that some people hate it, and accept that the “thanks” email needs to be sent as a matter of common courtesy — and also, by the way, to confirm that the prior email has been received and read.

rapkprhNo, the question is: should the email be “Thanks.” or “Thanks!”?  How important is it to put that ending exclamation point on your expression of personal gratitude?

Exclamation points are, of course, used to add emphasis, and can express excitement, surprise, astonishment, or other strong sentiments.  Interestingly, exclamation points were apparently originally called the “note of admiration” — and admiration seems pretty close to gratitude.  Also, the “Thanks.” email comes across as just a little bit flat, doesn’t it?  If you’ve asked someone a question or made a request and they’ve provided you with the information or response you want, the least you can do is put a little emphasis on your expression of appreciation.  If you then ask a follow-up question and get a follow-up response, you can always go with the “Thanks again.” email on the second go-round.

I do think, however, that we need to guard against overuse of the exclamation point in workplace communications.  For example, one exclamation point is perfectly sufficient, and multiple exclamation points should be reserved only for the most extraordinary circumstances.  And let’s remember that the exclamation point should be used rarely, and it is the good old period that should be liberally employed.  Too many exclamation points make the writer seem breathless and overly excitable.

But none of that should prevent the use of the exclamation point on that initial “Thanks!” email.  As in, to all of the readers of this blog:  Thanks!

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The [Insert Noun Here] At [Insert Location]

The other day I was driving through southern Pennsylvania when I saw a billboard for one of those condominium/retirement community developments.  The name of the place was “The Views at Bridgewater.”  What kind of views, I wondered?  I didn’t know, and I wasn’t going to stop to find out.  But I did notice, once again, what seems to be an alarmingly ubiquitous trend in naming new real estate projects.

english_word_22the22In the old days, a developer would have simply called the new project “Bridgewater,” but at some point a marketing genius decided that adding “the” and a one-word description would be much more attractive to potential buyers.  Maybe using the specifying “the” is thought to give the development a more distinctive feel.  Whatever the reason, this same naming convention seems to have been adopted by every real estate developer in America.  It’s always “The” followed by a noun identifying a physical feature followed by “at” followed by a location.  So, if somebody were to develop a condo project in the Westeros world of Game of Thrones, it inevitably would have a name like “The Walls at Casterly Rock” or “The Cliffs at Dragonstone.”  And if this naming convention had been developed before Seinfeld was broadcast, his parents would have lived in “The Units at Del Boca Vista” instead.

And just as disturbingly ubiquitous is the overuse of periods in advertising real estate developments.  Every “mixed use” development seems to feature “Live.  Work.  Play.” somewhere in its brochures and billboards.  Why the periods, rather than commas?  Probably because somebody did tests with a focus group, and decided that periods were more definitive and therefore more compelling.

Do these marketing approaches work with the average American?  They must, because they’re everywhere.  English teachers undoubtedly cringe at the overuse of one-word sentences, but at the same time feel a certain welling sense of pride that words and punctuation can be the difference between a successful real estate venture and an outright failure.

As for me, I’ll just continue to “Breathe.  Eat.  Blog.” here at “The Brickwork at German Village.”

Comma Trauma

Look, I admit it.  I care about the Oxford comma.  In fact, I care enough to call it the “Oxford comma” rather than the “serial comma.”  Oxford comma makes the comma sound sophisticated and worldly, whereas serial comma makes it sound like the poor comma is getting ready to join the ranks of Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy.

For those who don’t care passionately about this important topic, the Oxford comma is the comma that should come before the conjunction when you list three or more words or phrases.  So, if you’re talking about greatness, LeBron James, and how Cleveland bashers can go pound sand, the Oxford comma is the little guy that follows LeBron James.

the-oxford-comma_52c855ed979ed_w1500Some style guides, like the AP style guide that most American newspapers follow, say that when the sentence involves just a simple series, you should get rid of that comma and go directly to the conjunction.  I think the AP’s reckless and inexplicable decision in that regard is almost certainly solely responsible for the general decline of newspaper circulation in the United States over the past 50 years.

Why do I care about the Oxford comma?  It has nothing to do with dueling grammarians, punctuation prissiness, or trying to trace commas back to the English of Chaucer.  Instead, I think the Oxford comma is essential because writing and reading is all about cadence and the little voice in my head.  When I’m really reading something, and not just scanning a sign or an internet pop-up ad, a little voice in my head is reading the words along with me.  When I write something, that little voice is there, too, writing along with me.  The little voice cares about punctuation, and flow.  And when I write about sadism, Ramsay Bolton, and starving dogs, the little voice wants to pause for a moment after Ramsay Bolton, to savor his richly deserved demise, before moving on to the agents of his destruction.  The alternative is an unseemly headlong rush to the end of the sentence.

The Oxford comma is the literary difference between a cool walk on a spring morning, where you’ve got time to admire the tulips, the budding greenery, and the sun’s warming rays, and driving by in a stuffy car.  That’s why I’m a proponent of the Oxford comma.

Knowing When To Get To The (Exclamation) Point

If, like me, you were schooled in the proper use of the written word by a stern, ruler-wielding English teacher who applied her red editing pen with liberal glee, it’s been a tough few years.

The advent of email and texting and Twitter have stretched the old rules for written communications past the breaking point.  If my old teachers read some of what passes for writing on those new media, they would loosen their hair buns, put their heads down on their well-worn copies of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, and weep bitter tears.

Consider the exclamation point.  We were taught that the exclamation point was a form of punctuation to be used rarely, if at all.  It might, potentially, be useful to highlight an expression of surprise or a forceful statement, but mostly it was dismissed as a crutch for a poor writer who couldn’t drum up excitement with the story itself.  When I got to journalism school, our acerbic, chain-smoking faculty advisor instructed that exclamation points were never used in a news story.

But now, exclamation points are ridiculously common.  If you look at your recently received texts or emails, you’ll likely see dozens of exclamation points — sometimes even double or triple exclamation points (as well as emoticons, made-up-on-the-spot abbreviations, and other recent linguistic developments).  In fact, at times not using an exclamation point can be interpreted as rude or sarcastic.  You can’t just say “Thanks.”  It has to be “Thanks!” or maybe even “Thanks!!” — or you’re viewed as a surly jerk who isn’t sufficiently appreciative.

For a guy in his 50s, the trick is to avoid sounding like an over-excited teenager (“OMG!!!!”) while at the same time not inadvertently giving offense because you adhere to outdated strictures that used to govern the King’s English.  Where’s the rulebook?  For now, I’ll loosen my use of the exclamation point — but I’m drawing the line at emoticons or substituting numbers or single letters for words!