“A Woooo! Girl is a type of young woman who, like the cuckoo bird or the whippoorwill, gets her name from the signature sound she makes: WOOOO!”
“A ‘wooo!’ can be elicited many different ways … pretty much anything.”
—How I Met Your Mother
I use an obscene number of exclamation points in my work emails.
A lot of women do.
Just as women are more likely than men to use inflection and tag questions in speech, they also use exclamation points significantly more often than men in written communication—not to convey a sense of urgency, excitement, or anger, but to sound friendly.
I remember covering the topic “Exclamation Points: How many are too many?” in writing classes. I’m pretty sure the consensus was: “Welllll, it depends on the length of the text and what’s going on—and you do you, I guess—but generally one exclamation point is enough. Also, maybe ask yourself if it’s necessary.”
I am not an exclamation point person. I do not speak in exclamation points. Something either really exciting or frustrating has to be going on in order for me to express myself with that much emotion and volume. So, unless there are “DOUGHNUTS IN THE BREAKROOM!” or “THE MINI COOPER IS GOING FIFTEEN UNDER THE SPEED LIMIT IN A NO PASSING ZONE!” or something, I deem exclamation points unnecessary.
But one day at work, I was proofing an email and realized I sounded really excited about a new art exhibition. Too excited.
Nearly every single sentence ended with an exclamation point.
I sounded like a Wooo! Girl.
A sort of anxiety seized me about this. I went back and replaced all the exclamation points with periods. I re-read the email. I imagined the reader thinking “Man, she’s in a mood.” I put all the exclamation points back in. I rearranged sentences. I tried to use ellipses and em dashes to morph sentences so I didn’t sound like I was oh-so-very-excited about all my thoughts.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my male English teacher stood in front of the class one day and said: “I hate to break it to you, ladies. Female leaders fit one of two stereotypes. You’re either perceived as a mother hen or a bitch.”
Ten years later, I was staring at this email and thinking: “He was right. This applies. I’m either a Wooo! Girl, or I’m a harpy.”
I decided to be a Wooo! Girl.
And I still am.
I’ve been working on reducing the number of exclamation points I use in my written communication. It’s not so much about the desire to sound professional. It’s not so much about my contempt toward gender biases and expectations. It’s about feeling inauthentic. Those exclamation points are showing up in other areas of my life.
I know the don’t-care-what-others-think-about-you teaching is a bit elementary, but there’s so much inward and outward pressure to be a certain something, act a certain way—whether that’s to be happy and optimistic, to fake it until you make it, or something else—that I’m constantly worried about how others are perceiving me.
At times, perception can seem like an either/or game. I either use an exclamation point or two (or ten), or I’m unfriendly. I’m either optimistic, or I’m not. I don’t want to be unfriendly and I don’t want people to think I’m pessimistic, so I overcompensate with exclamation points. So many exclamation points.
I’m working on being honest.
Finding a balance.
Cassie Westrate (’14) graduated with a double major in writing and international development studies. She currently lives in West Michigan, where she works as a writer, hangs out with her pet bird, and fights crime by night. Just kidding about the crime.