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?

  • Hello Peter Horstchfeld, and welcome on English Language and Usage. May you report in which title did you find the exclamation point between parentheses? – kiamlaluno Apr 7 '11 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 Apr 7 '11 at 20:40
  • @Martha I surely misunderstood what the OP was saying. It would be useful to see in which context (!) was used. – kiamlaluno Apr 7 '11 at 21:15
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    An emoticon for buttocks? Excuse my French :) – Boris Pavlović Apr 8 '11 at 11:08

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.


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.

  • I've also occasionally seen it used instead of [sic], especially if the context is not actually a quote. – Marthaª Apr 7 '11 at 20:28
  • One might say that "WTF?" is the new "(?!)" – horatio Apr 7 '11 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 Apr 7 '11 at 20:50
  • :) True. (!) is more "OMG!", but not always – horatio Apr 7 '11 at 20:51
  • @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 Apr 8 '11 at 5:54

(!) 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.


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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