Avoiding the Use of Exclamation Points¹

Posted on January 3, 2004 by Jenna

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1 featuring a classic of Chinese poetry, the Book of Songs

Jane looks up. “Let’s avoid the use of exclamation points!”

Martin frowns.

“Oh, ” Jane says. She blushes. “Of course. I mean, let’s avoid the use of exclamation points.”

“That’s better,” Martin agrees.

“The world is ending,” Jane intones. “Everyone’s dead. All civilization is in ruins. A giant three-headed firebreathing mutant ant is marching this way. Run. Run. Run. Martin, we must flee.”

“I’m panicking,” Martin answers. “I cannot possibly flee. I am too busy running around in circles.”

“Snap out of it, man.” Jane shakes Martin languidly. “You’ve got to focus.”

“Right,” Martin says. “The three-headed ant.” He looks up. He waves to the ant. The ant wiggles its mandibles at him. Martin frowns. “Jane, this giant three-headed mutant ant cannot possibly breathe fire. It’s made of flame-retardant foam. Have you been telling tall tales again?”

Jane looks down and scratches a toe through the dirt. “It is just a little fib. It’s still a deadly mutant monster.”

“Yeah, right,” says Martin, dismissively. “Real deadly.” He frowns. “No helping it now. Let’s do things that make the situation worse.”

“Okay,” Jane agrees. “I’ll make many beeping noises. That’s sure to rouse its ire.”

“I’ll feed it special ant-gro tablets,” Martin says.

Jane beeps repeatedly. This rouses the ant’s ire. Martin feeds the ant two special ant-gro tablets. One head swells up and becomes ultra-giant. Another, mega-giant. The third head dangles sadly. It wanted to be special, but now it’s the smallest giant ant head on the whole body. Its mandibles twitch, quoting the Book of Songs:

What crumb is not good?
Which insect is not sad?
Have pity on us giant three-headed ants
Treated as if we were not threats.

“I mock your pain,” says Jane. “You should take it out on myself and Martin.”

Martin attempts to light the ant on fire. He can’t. It’s made of flame-retardant ant foam.

The mega-giant ant head wiggles its mandibles:

Please, Martin,
Do not attempt to light me on fire,
Do not test the resistant properties of my flame-retardant body.
It’s not that I worry about your success,
But I fear Smokey the Bear.
You, I would devour,
But Smokey the Bear coming to defeat us both — that I dread.

“He has a point,” Jane said. “Only you can prevent forest fires. But by doing so, you invite a bear in a hat to devour us both.”

“Liar.” Martin sulks. “Smokey the Bear does not devour children. He is good and kind and gentle.”

“You should marry him,” Jane proposes.

Martin stomps his foot. “I don’t want to do unhelpful things any more!”

The giant ant looks shocked. Martin used an exclamation point. Its ultra-giant head whispers, softly:

O sun; O moon;
Which enlightens this lower world.
Here is the man
Who treats me not according to the ancient rule.