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While reading the free Kindle edition of She by H. Rider Haggard (originally published in 1887), I noticed sentences like this one:

But now, to my intense horror, I knew that I could never put away the vision of those glorious eyes; and alas! the very diablerie of the woman, whilst it horrified and repelled, attracted in even a greater degree.

Notice the “alas!” in the middle of a sentence. I have never seen exclamation point in the middle of a sentence used like this before. Was this a common practice at the time this book was published? What is the history of this practice?

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This is an antiquated style of punctuation, seen primarily in pulp fiction of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a kind of parenthetical intensifier. Or you could call it an inline aside. Nowadays, such a thing would probably be rendered in parentheses complete — "... and (alas!) the very diablerie of the woman" — or with just the exclamation mark in parentheses: "... and alas (!) the very ...." etc. –  Robusto Apr 17 '13 at 21:23
    
@Robusto Why don't you post that as an answer? –  svick Apr 26 '13 at 8:58
    
If you insist. See below. –  Robusto Apr 26 '13 at 11:39
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Answering per OP's request:

This is an antiquated style of punctuation, seen primarily in pulp fiction of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a kind of parenthetical intensifier. Or you could call it an inline aside. Nowadays, such a thing would probably be rendered in parentheses complete — "... and (alas!) the very diablerie of the woman" — or with just the exclamation mark in parentheses: "... and alas (!) the very ...." etc.

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It's just to clarify that the term (alas, in this case) should be stressed.

Other ways to achieve the same result are:

  • (alas!)
  • alas (!)

Here's another example:

The huge crowd (1337 persons!) gathering in my front yard wasn't really that friendly looking.

Here, the "(1337 persons!)" stress the fact that it was indeed a huge crowd to be gathering in the front yard.

For the history of this usage, see the first comment on the original question.

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+1 that's the best size of crowd :-) –  Rory Alsop Apr 26 '13 at 8:20
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