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June 5, 2011

'The Last Exclamation Point'

June 05, 2011|By Noel Anenberg
  • "The Last Exclamation Point"
"The Last Exclamation Point" (Bo Kim )

The oddest thing happened in the winter of 2023. Sylvie, 7, was writing a birthday email to her grandmother and wanted to place an exclamation point after "Happy Birthday, Grandma."

She held the shift key down and tapped the "1" key on her keyboard but the exclamation point did not appear. Rather, the cursor skipped over the space where the point should have appeared then stood blinking at attention.

Sylvie sent the cursor back by tapping the "delete key" and repeated the keystrokes necessary for the exclamation point. Still, no exclamation point appeared. With some trepidation Sylvie shifted and tapped several more times without success.

And so Sylvie did what she usually did when she needed help, she shouted, "Daddy."

"I'm watching my hockey, Syl, what's up?"

"My computer will not type out an exclamation point," Sylvie said.

"Just hold down the shift key and tap the number one key like I taught you," Sylvie's dad said. He wanted Sylvie to be independent.

"Dad?" Sylvie said now bleating like a lost little lamb.

"Oh, all right, these bums are going to lose again anyhow. I'm coming."

When Sylvie's dad tried to type the exclamation point none appeared. "That's odd," he said, "we'll have to take this computer in."

"But, I want to send this message in time for grandma's birthday, daddy."

"Ummmm, tell you what," Sylvie's dad said, "let's send what you've written to my laptop and you'll be able to finish sending the message from it."

"I love you, daddy."

"I love you too, pumpkin."

There was only one problem. When Sylvie tried to type the exclamation point on her dad's laptop the very same strange thing happened.

"Dad," Sylvie said, "there are not any explanation points on your computer either."

Sylvie's dad walked into the kitchen where Sylvie was now working. Her little brother Ben was in his highchair with a smile and spaghetti sauce smeared all over his face. Sylvie's dad tried to type an exclamation point but there were no exclamation points on the laptop either.

"Maybe there are just no more exclamation points left," Sylvie's mom said as she wiped baby Ben's face.

"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, 'no exclamation points left,'"Sylvie's dad said.

But, when he went into his office the next morning, there were no exclamation points to be found anywhere. Everyone was stunned as if the sun or the moon had suddenly vanished.

At first, Sylvie, her dad, and many others searched through their old emails and letters in order to recycle the exclamation points they had sent or received.

At Sylvie's school, kids were trading three periods, five commas, and sometimes as many as six apostrophes for each exclamation point someone else could find.

But then, something very, very strange happened. Everyone began taking the time to find the exact words to describe what it was they were thinking or feeling. And when they did, exclamation points began to lose their appeal.

Several years later, when exclamation points began to reappear, Sylvie, her dad, and most other people did not even notice them.

And, by that time little Ben was eating his spaghetti with a fork and a great big spoon.

Special thanks to Bo Kim for her illustration. To see more of her work, visit bokim.com/.

For more Kids' Reading Room, visit latimes.com/kids.

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