I was scanning the first draft of an all-staff office memo I had written the other day, trying to strike the just-right balance between exuberance and self-dignity. I reserved the most scrutiny for my use of that ubiquitous, love-it-or-loathe-it punctuation mark: the exclamation point.

Too many, and the writer may come off as vacuous and/or unhinged. Too few, and she may appear severe, irritated or humorless.

In high school and college, I fancied myself as an Astute Writer and was fiercely against littering my precious copy with exclamation points. Email was still sort of new, and God forbid I be deemed unserious, or worse, girly. (It was the '90s, and I also refused to capitalize letters and believed that shaving one's legs was strictly for sellouts.)

These days I pepper my texts with "Sure!" "Yep!" "Thanks!" "Totally get that!" "No worries!" and "Let me know!" It doesn't matter if it's a best friend or a stranger whom I am cold-texting professionally; an exclamation point conveys a Goldendoodle-like cordiality, as if to say, You will like me, I promise!

On the contrary, the lack of an exclamation point can signal aloofness or even annoyance. If I message you on Slack without an exclamation mark, you would be correct in suspecting that I am mad at you.

Gen Z agrees. The unadorned period is something to be feared.

An enterprising reporter from NBC News asked young people on the street to interpret messages that were identical except for the punctuation that ended each sentence. He showed a young woman a flashcard with the words, "I hope you have fun!" She agreed it was a positive, sincere wish for the text's recipient.

But then the reporter presented her with a card that said, "I hope you have fun." "An abrupt end, so I would take that as, 'I hope you don't have fun,' " she said.

Wow. How in the world did we get here?

For a history lesson in the use of the exclamation point, I turned to linguist Anatoly Liberman, a professor in the Department of German, Nordic, Slavic and Dutch at the University of Minnesota. He claims that the exclamation point, and all punctuation for that matter, is a relatively recent phenomenon.

"The exclamation mark appeared only in the end of the 14th century and was invented by an Italian monk who used it approximately as we use it, though he called it a sign of admiration — so, to express his emotions," Liberman said.

Fast-forward to the Victorian era of 19th century England, when a culture of understatement reigned. "For example, instead of saying, 'Oh, she's a ravishing beauty,' someone would say ... 'She is not ugly,' or something like that," Liberman said.

F. Scott Fitzgerald couldn't contain his disdain for the exclamation mark. "Cut out all these exclamation points," he told his mentee and lover, columnist Sheilah Graham. "An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke."

Writers looked down upon the exclamation point because it was seen to be in bad taste. But by the middle of the 20th century, particularly in the United States, "cultural overstatement became very important," Liberman said. "People began to say things much more loudly. They were afraid of not being heard or understood."

We see how that has carried over to the present day. Our political discourse requires shouting until a blood vessel ruptures. Back in 2016, a Washington Post analysis of President Trump's tweets over a 15-month period unearthed 4,053 exclamation points, including "Sad!" "#CrookedHillary!" and "Pathetic!"

But in most contexts in the modern world, the exclamation point is less likely to mean screaming than smiling, especially in a text, DM or social media post. (Except on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, because punctuation — and sincerity — on that platform can be so cringe.)

An exclamation point is the Swiss Army knife of punctuation. It means we're thrilled that you got the promotion ("yay!"); or that we are truly "on it!" and don't begrudge you for asking; or that we acknowledge that we are begging you for a favor and hope that "Thanks!" conveys our abundance of appreciation.

Research shows that women are more inclined to use the exclamation mark than men, probably because we've been so conditioned to catch more flies with honey than vinegar that we could open up our own commercial beekeeping operations. If a man sprinkles his business correspondence with collegial exclamation points, I illogically assume he is approachable and possesses a healthy amount of emotional intelligence, is perhaps fit for leadership.

So as I was wrapping up my all-staff email, I toned down the exclamation points and left one alive in the final sentence. Remain professional, I told myself, but exude warmth!

And even though it was like resisting an itch I wanted to scratch, I refrained from doubling or tripling the exclamation point. That would have been nothing short of barbaric.