Sunday, June 26, 2011


by Barbara Early

I was sitting in the family room with Jeopardy playing in the background (I love Jeopardy!) when a question came on about the origin of the exclamation mark. As a former English teacher, I was somewhat ashamed that I not only didn't know the answer, but admittedly have never contemplated the question.

So thanks to the wonderful learning tool called Google, I discovered the origin of this exalted mark (and many of the others used in modern language.)

The symbol for the exclamation mark is believed have come from the first and last letters of the Latin word for "joy" (io). And while writing instructors caution against the overuse of this particular piece of punctuation, I wonder if sometimes we often settle for too little joy.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22,23
Thinking of joy as a fruit makes a lot of sense.

Fruits, such as apples or cherries (Deb has me craving cherry pie ala mode), cannot be manufactured or synthesized. Cherries grow only from cherry trees, naturally, when the tree is healthy, strong, and well fed. Fruit can only occur when attached to the tree that produces it. In this case, joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and can only be produced when we are walking in one accord with the Holy Spirit, yielding to His direction and sharing in His fellowship.

That doesn't mean life will always flow smoothly. Sometimes joy will be an effervescent outflowing of happiness and praise. And sometimes, amid challenging times, joy mutes to become a calm assurance and hope that God has everything in control and we rest in His hand.

The period came from the Greek for "going around", or a "circuit." They used it to define the period of time between Olympic games. Sometimes life seems more like a circle. One day follows another. And the days add up to weeks, months, years, and decades of sun-up, work, and sun-down, punctuated only by a weekend or an occasional special event. Tedium. A weary Solomon talked about this kind of life.
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. Ecclesiastes 1:4-5
He concluded all this was vain. Without the joy of the Holy Spirit, life can become monotonous and meaningless, a series of sentences with periods. Repetitive. Indistinguishable. Void.

The ellipsis(...), often used when a sentence trails off, comes from a Greek word meaning "to come short." I guess sentences that end in ellipses come short by not reaching an expected end.

In Romans, Paul reminds us that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." We don't measure up to God's standard, and none of us, in ourselves, are worthy of the glory of heaven. In our natural state, each of our lives are like sentences that just trail off. A wisp... A vapor... How depressing to think of life as a sentence that may end at any time.

But how do we go from the endless monotony and the falling short to the joy that God has so richly provided to sweeten our lives?

I'm glad you asked! Speaking of asking, the question mark came from the Latin meaning "to ask," formed much the same way as he exclamation mark.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Matthew 7:7, 8
When we realize our lives are lacking, that's a great time to seek after God, to ask after Him, and to knock on the door of His grace until He answers. I'd be oversimplifying the process if I said to just trust Jesus, and you'll be happy. But the root source of misery on this planet is sin. And sin has already been paid for on a cross at Calvary almost two thousand years ago. Turning from that sin and placing our trust in Jesus begins a personal relationship with Him that can flow into a joyful and everlasting life.

If we've simply wandered away from God and from fellowship with Him, we can always run back to him, as a lost child would run back to an earthly father after losing his or her way, and be caught up in His loving arms.

Question for thought: How is the story of your life punctuated? Are you caught in the despair and vanity of life? Or living in the joy of close fellowship with God?

Jesus said: These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. John 15:11

Barbara Early grew up buried in the snowy suburbs of Buffalo, NY, where she developed a love for all things sedentary: reading, writing, classic movies, and Scrabble. She holds a degree in Electrical Engineering, but her penchant for the creative caused her to run away screaming from the pocket-protector set. She taught secondary English and science for several years in a Christian school before home schooling her daughter successfully through high school. Barbara cooks up cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of comedy and sometimes a splash of romance, and was a double finalist in the 2010 ACFW Genesis competition. When not reading or writing, she enjoys cooking, crafts, home-improvement projects, and spending time with her husband and daughter.


  1. On the outside I look like an ellipses but on the inside I'm an exclamation point. I try to fill "me" with the most appreciation for life that I can into each day.

    Even when I'm feeling down or stressed I know in my heart the joy of having a Lord who can create the universe with one hand and hold me in the other.

    And I've been incredibly blessed in this life.

    I love !!! this post, Barb, and your sleuthing around the history of punctuation. Sorry about the cherry pie. Oh it was so good!

    My usually healthy food choices have continued to fall apart. I picked up McDonald's french fries in a drive through last night and enjoyed every greasy salty bite. You could say I ate them with relish! But I didn't. No ketchup/catsup either.

    Have a wonderful day, everyone.

  2. Thanks, Deb!

    We may pass our exclamation point limit on this post.

    I like this: 'Even when I'm feeling down or stressed I know in my heart the joy of having a Lord who can create the universe with one hand and hold me in the other.'

    And as far as food choices, sometimes you have to go with those cravings. And consider, cherries are a fruit. And if we stretch it, aren't potatoes a vegetable? (Yeah, I know. Sigh)

  3. Barb, this is such a creative and fun post. I never thought to question the origins of punctuation either. But now I'm that much better prepared for Jeopardy if Alex Trebek ever gives me a call and invites me to come on the show.

    I'd have to say my life at this moment has lots of question marks. (Although fewer than last year!) While I wait on those answers though, my day-to-day is punctuated by plenty of exclamations point. I am incredibly blessed to know my redeemer.

  4. Thanks, Lisa,

    It's so nice to know we don't have to have all the answers, and to try to work everything out ourselves, in order to have joy.

    And even if the only blessing our life held was that we knew our redeemer (and like Job said, that we will stand one day with him), that is still a great cause for joy!!

  5. Barb, Jeopardy is a favorite at my house. The origin of punctuation marks is fascinating. I never stopped to think about where they came from.

    If I look over my whole life, I think it would be punctated like this:


    Believe it or not, that makes sense to me. Lots of excitement, lots of questions, a big old period of waiting. Now, as I'm older, there are still questions, but more excitement. More knowing that God has His hand on me no matter what happens or how challenging life gets. For the most part, I really love my life, and I thank God for all He's done for me!!!! (because there weren't already enough exclamations in this post)

  6. Jen,

    On a trip to LA a few years ago, one of the things I was so glad to be able to do is attend a taping of Jeopardy. It was really fun sitting in the audience watching. In between shows, Alex Trebec comes out and answers questions and jokes around with the audience. A very fun experience! I just wished we could have taken pictures, but they weren't allowed in the studio.

    And I like your life punctuation!

  7. Great idea, I'll be thinking about this one for a while. I think I'm mostly question marks lately.

  8. Dina--

    Inspiration comes from funny places, I guess.

    It's got me thinking too. I don't think I've taken enough time to embrace my inner "!"

  9. What a great post! Barb, I love this. I was watching Jeopardy that night, too, and was thinking of researching it myself. But I would have *never* thought of such a clever way to turn it into a devotion.

    I am now also craving cherry pie! Yum!

    My life is full of ???!!!???!!!

  10. Thanks, Suzie!

    I think we've used up our yearly quota of !!!. Oh, well, better here than in our fiction, right?

    I might have to bake a pie. Or drive to the place Deb went.


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