Why is the exclamation mark called a bang? Bang is used to mean the sound of something falling but these days I hear it frequently used to mean the exclamation mark, especially in IT related texts.

  • It's also called a slammer or a slammy or just a slam. Careful, because slammer and the slam also refer to prison. – Robusto Apr 1 '12 at 14:59
  • It was also called "shriek", and a few people used "splat" (though most reserved "splat" for the asterisk). Basically, both for ease of speech and clarity there was a need to shorten "exclamation point", "asterisk", "period", and a few others into simpler, more distinct words. To my knowledge the use of "bang" for the exclamation point goes back to 1970 or earlier. – Hot Licks Apr 12 '17 at 19:11
up vote 26 down vote accepted

Punctuation apparently got short names and nicknames in the printing industry when humans set the type, literally by putting small pieces of metal into frames. They needed to say "pass me a ..." and multi-syllable names like "exclamation point" didn't work as well for them as short and easily distinguishable ones.

Something similar happened in the early days of computers, when we had to type a lot of things and often tell each other what to type. Again, short names that didn't sound anything like each other were preferred to long ones. The Unix guys, who like to use words related to magic and wizardry whenever they could, re-animated many of these really old fashioned printer's type words and invented a few of their own. (Here's a list but there are many more you can find - just search for a few of the nicknames and you'll find pages with lists of them.)

As to bang, if you read the comics you'll see that certain words are always written with an exclamation mark, and Bang! is one of them. It gives more emphasis to the word, which is representing a sudden loud sound like the firing of a gun. (Things can fall over with a bang, but it's not the canonical example of the sound.) Printers also called it screamer, I guess because it could change an ordinary sentence like get out to something that was screamed like get out! Like all names, it doesn't need to "make sense" - why is a rose a rose and not a tulip? - it just needs to be memorable, which it is.

  • Finding it odd that we're having a discussion about etymology, and you aren't attributing the following to any source: "As to bang, if you read the comics you'll see that certain words are always written with an exclamation mark, and Bang! is one of them." – rstackhouse Mar 27 '15 at 9:17
  • The terms, as used in computing, easily predate UNIX. – Hot Licks Apr 14 '17 at 1:36

Found at "The pronunciation guide for UNIX"

! bang

comes from old card punch phenom where punching ! code made a loud noise; however, this pronunciation is used in the (non- computerized) publishing and typesetting industry in the U.S. too, so ...
Alternatively it could have come from comic books, where the words each character utters are shown in a "balloon" near that character's head. When one character shoots another, it is common to see a balloon pointing at the barrel of the gun to denote that the gun had been fired, not merely aimed. That balloon contained the word "!" -- hence, "!" == "Bang!"

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