Throughout history, rock and roll has been on a mission to systematically destroy punctuation.
This is primarily because punctuation is about rules, conformity and order — three things that rock, in its truest, purest essence, is vehemently opposed to. Semicolons, slashes, commas and periods most certainly do not rock, so in order to smash the system, they are co-opted by rock bands and used for nefarious, decidedly “rock” purposes, which is why we have band names like Motörhead, Mötley Crüe and Hüsker Dü (wanton umlaut abuse), songs like Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er” (an apostrophic calamity) and albums like At the Drive-In’s In/Casino/Out (I have no idea).
In fact, rock has been at war with punctuation for so long now that seemingly every offense has been made — W.A.S.P., Enuff Z’Nuff, the Academy Is …, Blue Öyster Cult, Blink-182, (hed) p.e. — though in recent years (perhaps owing a debt of gratitude to, uh, trailblazers like Neu! and Wham!), no mark as been as overused as the humble exclamation point.
Pioneered by post-apocalyptic rock outfit Godspeed You Black Emperor! (who would later change their name to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, for reasons apparent only to them) in 1994, exclamation-point abuse came to the forefront in 2000, thanks to bicoastal, post-millennial funk act !!! and bands like On! Air! Library! and Against Me! (who felt so strongly about exclamation points that they would include nine of them in the title of their 2006 live album Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live in London!!!.)
And even more recently, we’ve seen an exponential growth of exclamation-point abuse, thanks mainly to much-blogged acts like the Go! Team, Los Campesinos!, Die! Die! Die!, ¡Forward Russia!, Thunderbirds Are Now!, Oh No!! Oh My!! — bonus points for double exclamation points — and You Say Party! We Say Die!, which seemed to indicate that we were heading toward a terrifying future in which all new bands were required to choose names that sound like interjections.
But then, last week, something rather extraordinary happened. Bravely — and rather inexplicably — Panic at the Disco decided to drop the “!” from their name, stemming the tide of exclamation overuse and royally ticking off their loyal (and seemingly nuts) fanbase in the process. The bandmembers tried to play it off by saying the point was “never part of the name to us,” and that they axed it because it was “annoying to write.” But the damage had already been done … as several of their fans pointed out on sites like PATDOnline.com, the loss of the exclamation point seemed to indicate that Panic were doing everything in their power to put their past behind them (though we’re not sure why they’d want to do that.)
And it’s not like Panic had foregone all punctuation-related shenanigans this time around … after all, they decided to title their album Pretty. Odd., as in two seemingly disparate yet equal statements. Conjoined and yet separated by periods. Seriously.
So, really, what’s the deal? By dropping the exclamation point and adding a pair of periods, are Panic bucking the system or paying homage to the long and winding history of rock and roll punctuation abuse? Were they ditching their past and heading full-bore into the future? Well, according to an expert, yes … on all counts.
“Well, you have the right to call yourself whatever you want, and I guess that right extends to adding or removing exclamation points,” Geraldine Woods, the author of Webster’s New World Punctuation: Simplified and Applied, told MTV News. “It was always a rather interesting choice, because an exclamation point usually doesn’t belong in the middle of a sentence, but I think creative people tend to play around with punctuation a great deal — e.e. cummings comes to mind — because there’s a form of rebellion in it. I mean, you learn all the rules, and then you get to break them.
“It seems like [Panic have] put some thought into the changes … they’re not just changes for changes’ sake,” she added. “Pretty. Odd. works because it conjures up images of something that is both pretty and odd, which is interesting,” she added. “And it’s grammatically interesting, because without the period, the word ‘pretty’ would be modifying the word ‘odd.’ So it takes on a completely different context.”
See, even though fans are mourning over the loss of the exclamation point, they can take solace in the fact that Panic are now w-a-a-y more grammatically interesting. Of course, there’s no denying that their new namesake is decidedly less, well, urgent … but hey, maybe for album number three, they’ll bring the exclamation point back. After all, if rock history has showed us anything, it’s that exclamation points rock.
“Exclamation points are used to convey emotion, to increase the immediacy of what you’re saying. They instill a sense of emergency and urgency,” Woods said. “To change that, especially for a rock band, seems kind of odd to me. There’s certainly a reduced sense of ‘panic’ in Panic at the Disco now.”