Language Research!

College Park, Maryland, December 16, 2014

Today the U.S. Center for Linguistic Statistics released the results of a longitudinal study of exclamation point usage among Americans. The statistics shed light on what many have long suspected, but have never objectively researched: some Americans disproportionately use the exclamation point.

A team of language experts participated in a far reaching, seven-year study of social media posts from Americans across various demographic groups. They worked from anecdotal evidence that some Americans used exclamation points extensively, while others rarely used them at all.

“I used an exclamation point this one time on Facebook,” says Jerry, age 41, from Alpharetta, Georgia. “I was barefoot in the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. A can of them Grands biscuits fell right on my big toe. I thought I was gonna die. So yeah, when I posted the picture of my big blue toenail, I figured it was okay to use an exclamation point in the caption. And like Dick Cheney said about waterboarding, I’d do it again in a minute.”

Contrast that with Julie, 35, from West Little Rock, Arkansas. Exclamation points are a way of life for Julie, and not just after excruciating biscuit accidents. “I use them all the time! They work for Pinterest shares, slow cooker recipes, family game night, and date night. Especially date night!”

The numbers are striking. America’s exclamation point usage is even more concentrated than America’s wealth – the richest 5% of Americans hold 62% of the wealth. By contrast, the most exclamatory 5% of America is responsible for a full 80% of exclamation point usage.

So exactly who is using all the exclamation points? The median exclamation point user is a 34 year old white female who lives with her husband and three children. On average she holds a bachelor’s degree, has seen every Nicholas Sparks movie and drives a sensible vehicle. Further research is ongoing, and initial results show a strong positive correlation with the behaviors of the now ubiquitous “basic white girl.”

But you need not worry. The Center for Linguistic Statistics says that we are not in danger of running out of exclamation points anytime soon: “While this might seem like a crisis, exclamation points are a completely renewable resource! If you want more, you just make more!”

Editorial Note: Also due ANY DAY is the center’s GROUNDBREAKING research on electronic shouting, and who’s responsible for it.

To waterboard, or not to waterboard?

The nation’s military and industrial dominance was well-established. The people thought they were safe from attack, but their confidence was shattered by a group of men piloting planes directly into their most important city. It was a huge public relations victory for the attackers; the nation was shaken. Its people realized for the first time that they were not safely isolated from the people who wanted to kill them. Military installations were attacked that day, but it wasn’t just a military attack. Civilians died on that day, when the planes came out of nowhere.

And so the nation retaliated. It snatched up some of the individuals responsible for the sneak attack and held them secretly. One of the conspirators was held in solitary confinement for 36 months. He was chained to a wall, given inadequate nutrition and waterborded.

The nation was Japan, and among the captured American airmen they tortured was a young man named Chase Neilsen.

He was born in 1917 in a small town in Utah. Having graduated from Utah State in 1939, he took a commission as a second lieutenant in U.S. Army Air Corps just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1942, Lt. Neilsen and 79 other U.S. military personnel participated in the Dolittle Raid to bomb Tokyo. Sixteen bombers took off from aircraft carriers to attack the heart of Japan. They had planned on landing at friendly bases in China, but they ran out of fuel and had to crash land in Japanese-held territory.

Three airmen died during landing. All of the planes were lost. (As an aside, Dolittle thought he would be court martialed for losing all of the planes, but instead he was given a Medal of Honor and a big promotion.) Two of the flight crews (10 men total) were missing: two of those ten drowned at during landing. The remaining eight missing airmen were captured by the Japanese. Two of these eight were executed shortly after for war crimes (strafing fire that killed Japanese civilians). Among the six men held as Japanese prisoners of war was Lt. Chase Neilsen.

Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, Crew No. 6 Nielsen and fellow Dolittle Raiders, 1942.

In 1946, he testified at a war crimes trial against his Japanese captors: “I was given several types of torture… I was given what they call the water cure. I felt more or less like I was drowning… just gasping between life and death.”

There is a national discussion right now about the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ used by the CIA against suspected terrorist detainees in the years after the September 11 attacks on the United States. In those attacks, American intelligence was caught off-guard. As a result 2,977 innocents died that day. America was out to prevent further attacks, and avenge 9/11.

U.S. intelligence operations ramped up exponentially to meet the new enemy and the new kind of war we were fighting. There was no conventional army lined up on an international border ready to attack us. This would be a war of shadows and intelligence. And so the CIA stepped in and went to work.

We now know at least part of what the CIA and its contractors did to the individuals it held in secret locations around the world. Terror suspects were waterboarded, chained to concrete floors, humiliated and mistreated in other various ways. After the Japanese surrender in World War II, American military courts convicted Japanese military personnel for abuse of U.S. soldiers, abuse that included waterboarding. Many Americans today defend what the CIA did to our enemies. The Japanese military did the same thing to our young men and we judged them guilty of war crimes.

I’m no expert on this subject. I didn’t lose a family member in 9/11. I’ve not served in the military. I’ve never been tortured. Perhaps the American with the most credibility to speak on this subject is Senator John McCain. A Naval Academy graduate, the 31 year old McCain was on a bombing mission over North Vietnam when he was shot down in 1967. He spent two years in solitary confinement and was tortured, leaving him with permanent disabilities.

McCain_at_Annapolis McCain at Anapolis, 1954

Vietcapturejm01 McCain being captured in Vietnam, 1967.

This week, the Senate released its report on the CIA interrogation program. Sen. McCain spoke on the Senate floor for almost 15 minutes, breaking with his Republican allies to support the report: “The use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights.”

The 620,000 military deaths of the American Civil War teach us that there is a terrible price to be paid when we ignore our foundational belief in inalienable human rights. Slavery was a denial of those basic human rights, and the Civil War was the price America paid for that denial. This is not really about our enemies; it’s about us. This is not to excuse the terrorists, or leave no place for justice. But we are better than torture. So let’s be better than torture.