shouty titles!!!

What’s the easiest way to get attention? Slab a ! at the end of your words. Preferably more!!! 

That’s at least what some of the exclamation mark detractors say, but that’s, of course, not the whole story. Not even close. In my book, I explore how we can look at punctuation when we’re tracing what’s authorial and what’s the hand of the editor in a text. Often, punctuation is one of the first things falling victim to a publisher’s housestyle (e.g. do they or don’t they follow the Oxford comma?), or an editor’s preferences. It’s unlikely that an editor would put ! into a text that doesn’t have it. It’s too big of a deal, would be too intrusive (although this is by no means the rule, witness early Beowulf editors I explore in book and podcast). More often than not, though, exclamation marks make editors nervous, and they (unlawfully!) take them out.

However, a well-placed ! can indeed bump your “oi”-game up a notch or two. Particularly when ! comes in the title of your book/film/song. And in those, it’s again quite likely that the creators themselves insisted on keeping them. That it is the artist themselves talking to us right there. There!

Here’s a totally not-exhaustive list of SHOUTY TITLES!!! in (pop)culture of the past century or so.


Apart from ! in singer or band names such as P!nk and !!! (that’s their real name, probably pronounced as Chk Chk Chk), lots of song names bear the old banger in their title: do you remember that late millennials’ hymn “Hey Ya!” by Outcast? Oh, yes you do. 

There’s something for the Boomers, too, The Supremes’ “Stop! In the Name of Love” for example. Nick Cave is joyfully overdoing it with his “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!”, and my particular favourite must be The Pet Shop Boys and their Berlin-inspired electronic “Entschuldigung!” (“sorry”) which becomes the song’s refrain followed by the broken German “Ich nicht sprechen Deutsch”. 

The crown of the most recent and most happy dancey song must surely go to Taylor Swift and Panic! At the Disco (note the ! in the name, now sadly dropped): the bubble-gum ode to all-caps uniqueness, called “ME!”.

An honourable mention, of course, to the iconic Beatles’ song and album (and film!) called “Help!” (1965).


Innumerable the films grabbing themselves a glamorous ! in their titles: here are some of my favourites, arranged according to how they use the mark (earnestly? ironically?), and to what I call “special effects !”. You’ll see. 

Early in film history, or let’s rather say during the first half of the twentieth century, ! confidently ends titles such the romantic comedy silent movie Safety Last! from 1923. And of course the cult film Godzilla, King of Monsters! (1956), and the now appreciated ahead-of-its-time-feminist Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). I think the exclamation mark in all three films transmits a kind of voice shouting the words out. In the first one, it’s the guy trying to get to his girl, and surmounting every obstacle (such as climbing New York skyscrapers!); the second title could be shouted out by an on-looker seeing Godzilla rise huge above the city; and the third is one of the three ladies egging each other on, a kind of internal voice. I’m curious to watch it, it’s fully available on YouTube, and looks unnerving and cool.

This earnest use gave way to ironic subversion in the ’80s and ’90s: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! of 1978 paved the way with its bizarre story of vegetables gone wild. Airplane! from 1980 shows clever exclamation mark use, turning its attention-craving potential ironic, that is, making it mean the opposite. In the 1970s, there were lots of films depicting fictional aviation disasters, so Airplane! came as a reaction to those, poking fun at a decade of flight crash movies. And then there’s of course Mars Attacks! from 1996, 

This earnest use gave way to ironic subversion in the ’80s and ’90sAttack of the Killer Tomatoes! of 1978 paved the way with its bizarre story of vegetables gone wild. Airplane! from 1980 shows clever exclamation mark use, turning its attention-craving potential ironic, that is, making it mean the opposite. In the 1970s, there were lots of films depicting fictional aviation disasters, so Airplane! came as a reaction to those, poking fun at a decade of flight crash movies. Look at this screechy !, isn’t it soooo scary, hoooo! And then there’s of course Mars Attacks! from 1996. 

And don’t you also think we should all use more “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!…” in our everyday communication? Live and written!

In the same way that Faster, Pussycat! had to wait decades to find its due recognition, the hippie-punk-ironic stance was too much for the feel-good world of the late ’90s/2000s. That Thing You Do! (1996) and Mama Mia! (2008) come to us rather less self-consciously mocking, and rather more weak. The 2016 film teen comedy on college baseball Everybody Wants Some!! (sex??) is an exception to our contemporary washed-out exclamation game. And now for some special effects!

The Steve Martin comedy capitalises on the Spanish upside down initial exclamation mark, setting the mood for its Mexican background. Goodbye Lenin turns the !’s bottom dot into a communist star in keeping with its reverse-history theme, Moulin Rouge sports, fittingly, a little windmill in the sign. 

Well. I certainly thought this blog entry would just be a list of titles — but as ever, the exclamation one-upped me, and hopefully surprised you, that there’s so much more going on than just a bang at the end of some words.


Aaaand here are the books. As I wrote above, a ! is too attention-demanding to be the idea of an editor (most of the time). So when there’s an exclamation-marked title, we can probably be sure the author had a hand in it. Why is this important? Because detail mattes. In order to understand how people read, how the book worked in its original context, how the process from writing to printing to selling and eventually buying functioned, we need to know as much as possible about the making of the book. It doesn’t mean that authorial punctuation, word choice, phrasing, and structure are by force the most artistic and satisfying decisions. They are also just options. Just versions. All versions are good evidence for us in the quest of “getting” the book, and everything around it. So anyway, ! deserves our undivided attention!

As one would expect, lots of children’s books contain a !, for instance nearly a quarter of the Dr. Seuss titles have an exclamation mark either within or at the end of the titles. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and Horton Hears a Who!.

Adults, too, love themselves a screamer: note P.G. Wodehouse’s Carry on, Jeeves! or Absalom! Absalom! by William Faulkner. Faulkner was a Nobel Prize-winning writer, and knew what he was doing. The book tells the story of a rebellious son and a devastated father, and though it’s set around Civil War America, it’s inspired by a pretty wild Biblical story. I haven’t dug enough to find the first English Bible translation that first has exclamation marks (of at all, though I suspect Faulkner might have seen them in some Bible or other?). In any case, the repeated one-word-plus-exclamation-mark title is effective in expressing the heart-ache of the dad calling his sinful son, or sort of sighing out or crying out his name.

As an aside, Faulkner was word-craftsman, and also holds the one-time record for longest sentence with over 1200 words, but that’s a different story. 

Now, I’d love to keep growing the list of ! titles, so if you got one, drop it in the comments! And what’s your favourite from the above?

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