Henry Hitchings’s terrific book The Language Wars has a brief note on old names for exclamation marks (aka exclamation points):
Exclamation and question marks were not much used until the seventeenth century. Ben Johnson referred to the former as admiration marks, and they were casually known by the names shriekmark and screamer before exclamation mark became standard . . .
Admiration mark? Shriekmark? Screamer? Amused, I went looking for more and found that exclamation marks also went (and maybe still go) by the names shriek and Christer. The resulting tweet prompted a flurry of responses, so I want to extend the discussion here, where there’s more space.
Few appear in the standard reference books, but the American Heritage Dictionary includes screamer, which Eric Partridge says dates to around 1920 and was used mostly by “printers, authors, journalists, typists, and copy-writers” (A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 1937).
Partridge says shriek-mark comes from plain old shriek, first used this way about a century and a half ago, and that both had colloquial use among authors and typists; ditto Christer. Writer Steven Poole tells me he inherited his maths teacher’s habit of calling n! (n factorial) “n shriek”. Here’s Partridge:
[Look away now if you’re sensitive about rude anatomical words.]
To these colourful terms we may add bang, pling, smash, soldier, and control (via About.com); gasper, startler, and dog’s cock (from Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves); the more alliterative dog’s dick; and slammer. Plausible but unverified names include ball-bat, boing, dembanger, eureka, screech, shout pole, smash, spark-spot, and wham.
Which of these have you used, or heard? What others are there?
From Twitter: surprise mark (anecdotal), skeer mark (Kentucky, 1893, via @TweetsofOld), huutomerkki (= “shoutmark” in Finnish, via @Tuumaru), and exclam, a neat clipping used in the TV comedy Raising Hope (via @HollyHunt913).
@Manganpaper also sent me this brief historical note on terminology, and says John Hart calls ! “the wonderer” in his 1551 essay “The opening of the unreasonable writing of our Inglish toung” (cited in The Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol. III).
Megan Garber at The Atlantic has followed up on this post: ‘Screamer,’ ‘Slammer,’ ‘Bang’ … and 15 Other Ways to Say ‘Exclamation Point’. She writes: “It’s not going anywhere, guys — and the Internet has only increased its power. We might as well have some good names for it.”