From The English Project:
In 1551, John Hart, making a list of the major English punctuation marks, included one that he called the wonderer. He meant what we now call the exclamation mark. Ben Jonson, England’s greatest punctuator, gave it a similar name calling it the admiration mark. In Jonson’s time, it was also called a shriek and a screamer. Since then, it has been called a bang, a boing, a gasper, a pling, a slammer, and a Christer. From a rather good start, this punctuation mark has been given less and less respectful names.
The exclamation mark is ‘rarely needed or acceptable in scientific texts,’ says a Cambridge research guide. However, the same guide less than twenty pages later lists the exclamation as a mathematical symbol to be used to indicate the complete multiplication of a descending sequence of natural numbers. 52! = 52x51x50x49x[…]x3x2x1. If you are a reading mathematical formula out loud, you will say, when you come upon ‘52!’: ‘fifty-two factorial’, ‘fifty-two shriek’, or ‘fifty-two bang’. (52! is a number so huge that you could shriek (i.e., shuffle) a pack of cards for the entire history of the universe without getting a repeated ordering.) The exclamation mark does appear in scientific texts, but that ‘bang’ suggests a mathematical knowingness about the vulgarity of the shriek.
In comic books, exclamation marks figure large and multi-coloured. They float above the heads of characters recently amazed, dazed or assaulted. Coming out of guns, they represent explosions. That probably accounts for the mark’s being called ‘a bang’ by mathematicians and programmers.
. . . .
Writers of Cambridge research papers are not being warned against the factorial exclamation. They are being warned against the everyday exclamation used to express excitement or added to add excitement. The latter use is generally thought to be lamentable. Oxford says: ‘Avoid overusing the exclamation mark for emphasis.’ Notwithstanding Oxbridge strictures, exclamations are hugely used in Internet English where they take on aspects of the hysterical, the desperate and the psychotic. Death threats are probably rightly supported by multiple exclamations, but death threats themselves should be avoided where possible.
Paradoxically, there is some evidence that exclamation marks may sometimes be used to reduce the impact of what is being said. Women have been accused of using exclamation marks more then men, with an implication that that results from the greater excitability of women. In a study of gender and exclamations, Carol Waseleski argues that ‘exclamation points rarely function as markers of excitability.’ However, they ‘may function as markers of friendly interaction, a finding with implications for understanding gender styles in email and other forms of computer-mediated communication.’
Multiplying exclamation marks might be expected to increase the power of the exclamation, but additional marks merely increase the pitch. Gasping gives way to shouting and shouting to shrieking. As sopranos know, above high C, the vowels sound alike; verbal communication becomes impossible. As novelists know, intensifiers weaken: the more exclamation, the less impact. Cambridge dislikes one; it hates two, three, or four!!!! The law of diminishing returns applies.
Link to the rest at The English Project and thanks to Diana for the tip.