This week is Trump Week at The Intersect: a five-day examination of Donald Trump’s consistently fascinating and occasionally unsettling Internet presence. From the murky depths of 4chan to the viral heights of YouTube, we’ll be looking at the people who have made Trump not only a political phenomenon but also a digital one. Keep up with the series here.
Donald Trump is excited. Perpetually. For every 10 tweets he or one of his proxies bangs into his Twitter feed, roughly half contain exclamations: “This is a movement!” “Great poll Florida!” “#CrookedHillary!”
It’s unusual, for a man of Trump’s stature — or for a man at all, at that. The vast majority of exclamation points are written by women. Since the 1970s, when the mark first hit keyboards (and when, incidentally, the first large-scale study of gendered punctuation-use came out), they’ve been considered signs of “excitability” — a nice way of saying “this chick needs to calm down.”
And yet, Trump loves the exclamation mark. He almost loves it more than the workaday period! Trump sent 7,852 tweets between April 30, 2015, and July 20, and there are 4,053 exclamation points contained therein. Some are punctuational hype men, as in “We need a new president — FAST!” Many accompany Trump’s storied takedowns: “Not nice!” and “pathetic!” and “sad!”
A personification of the Trump Twitter voice would not look like Trump himself, smug and besuited and relatively composed as he always seems. It would be someone on the verge of a hysterical breakdown or a profound religious awakening.
Linguists call this “upscaled graduation” — upscale not in the manner of Trump’s much-mentioned hotels and golf courses, but of an instrument growing in pitch. It’s a means of intensifying the emotional tenor of your message in order to ratchet up the response of your audience. It’s the difference between “sounds good!” and “sounds good.,” “Jeb!” and “Jeb,” “BAD JUDGEMENT!” and “bad judgement.”
There’s no question as to which of those last two phrases is more charismatic, more immediately stimulative — despite the notion of the exclamation point as a symptom of excitability, people tend to feel closer, in online communications, to those who frequently use them.
And yet, that might not be Trump’s sole motivation for deploying the character. In 2006, a researcher at Southern Connecticut State conducted an analysis of exclamation-point use in two online message groups. Most of the exclaimers were indeed women, but — counter the long-standing narrative on exclamation points — they rarely busted the punctuation out because they were overly emotional. Rather, they used the exclamation point to signal friendliness or to emphasize “intended statements of fact.” Including statements of fact that weren’t, technically speaking, factual.
Maybe all those exclamation points are just another piece of the grand, distracting spectacle.
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