The Origin of the Exclamation Mark

This entry is part 2 of 34 in the series Small World


A gasper, a screamer,
a dog’s cock, say
the old type-setters,
frozen at point.
But it’s older than
type, old as a dried
stalk trembling on
the way to earth,
a mud-dauber tube
like a tuneless flute,
the trail of a slug
down the moss face
of a cliff, a severed
finger packed in ice,
a No. 2 pencil pocked
with toothmarks, a
snake made of sand,
a microphone hung
from the ceiling,
the fossilized thigh-
bone of an extinct
sauropod, a string
of drilled shells
used in lieu of
money, or a
gas flare on
an oil field
at night.

says: the word
joy written vertically,
in Latin, a big letter I
balancing on a
full belly.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).


  1. Read this originally on my cell phone so it took me awhile to see the shape. :) I like the sound of the unicycle and the look of the full belly. Go figure.


  2. I was wondering how this might appear on mobile devices — I don’t have a good handle on which preserve formatting and which don’t. It seems you and Larry are of opposite minds about the closing image, which is of no help to me whatsoever. :) But thanks to both of you for commenting.


  3. balancing on a
    full gut

    perhaps also might work. Great fun, especially “a severed finger/packed in ice” and the wonderful gas flare.


  4. A perfect ideograph, this further limns the “experience” of an exclamation point. The images as well as its image on the page (an ideographic aspiration appreciated on a sensory-impresionistic level) is itself the objectified experience, or the poem. e.e.cummings used this device successfully in “1 (a”.


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