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What does an exclamation mark inside parentheses "(!)" mean? I saw this in a book review I was reading and I didn't understand what the use of it was. Can someone help me?

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  • Hello Peter Horstchfeld, and welcome on English Language and Usage. May you report in which title did you find the exclamation point between parentheses?
    – apaderno
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 20:16
  • @kiamlaluno, he didn't say he found it in a title, just in a book review. The "title" reference was to the fact that the OP only put the question he was asking in the title, not in the body. I've since edited it.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 20:40
  • @Martha I surely misunderstood what the OP was saying. It would be useful to see in which context (!) was used.
    – apaderno
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 21:15
  • 2
    An emoticon for buttocks? Excuse my French :) Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 11:08

4 Answers 4

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This usage is simply a passing note of astonishment at the preceding word (or perhaps phrase). Typically there will be no further comment on this astonishment, and it is just an aside. This may express real or feigned (sarcastic) astonishment by the writer, or be used to call attention to a surprising aspect of the use of the preceding word.

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  • This answer is still the best one, however I would note that the primary meaning is humorous with genuine astonishment secondary. Wikipedia currently has the following sentence as an example in the entry for Exclamation Mark: “Ooh, a sarcasm detector. That's a really useful invention(!)”
    – hackerb9
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 16:56
  • In 2015, Jessica Bennet wrote in The New York Times that she uses parenthetical exclamation marks as a way to "reign in effusiveness" and "soften" the exclamation. However, I think she may be unique as I have never seen that usage in the wild much less anyone else advocating that meaning.
    – hackerb9
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 21:12
  • For unintended meanings, please see: Advanced Writing Tips: Tip #45 from Dinosaur Comics which states, “If you want to parenthetically notify your reader that something is amazing, put an exclamation point in brackets!” The comic then tackles the problem with (!), namely that it looks like a butt and advises aspiring writers, “I don't have a solution for this, I just wanted to give fair warning: y'all be typing out butts.”
    – hackerb9
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 21:26
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It would help to see the example you're referring to, but this usually is an informal way of emphasizing -- usually with sarcasm -- some piece of information that comes in the middle of a sentence rather than emphasizing the whole sentence. For example, if I said

I saw this in a book review I was reading (!) and I didn't understand what the use of it was.

The exclamation would apply not to the fact that I didn't understand some aspect of a book review, but rather would sarcastically point to the fact that I was even reading a book review.

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  • I've also occasionally seen it used instead of [sic], especially if the context is not actually a quote.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 20:28
  • One might say that "WTF?" is the new "(?!)"
    – horatio
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 20:47
  • @horatio, good point, but I don't think that's true for just "(!)" (as opposed to "(?)" or "(?!)") - WTF is always a question.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 20:50
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    :) True. (!) is more "OMG!", but not always
    – horatio
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 20:51
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    @Martha: of course, even if common, that's not the correct usage of [sic], which should simply indicate a typo or some sort of error in the quoted text, and not relay any emotion about the statement itself.
    – nico
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 5:54
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(!) is the written equivalent of a brief pause to raise the eyebrows. It expresses alarm or astonishment at whatever was revealed by the preceding word.

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Ayn Rand used (!) many times in her non-fiction. It was like a raised eyebrow or a knowing side glance. I always thought it was very effective and I use it myself now and then. It deserves a name.

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  • As mentioned above, "(!)" is commonly called "buttocks". For more information, please refer to the scholarly (!) writings of Ryan North of Qwantz.com.
    – hackerb9
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 16:41

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