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Synonyms: bang, bang path, exclamation point, adjective!noun, exclamation!compounds
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An exclamation mark (sometimes called a "bang") between two words denotes a trait!character relationship between them, especially between a character and a trait of that character. For example, CAPSLOCK!Harry refers to Harry Potter shouting in capslock during much of The Order of the Phoenix, while Femme!Blair would refer to a characterization of Blair behaving in fanfiction in a way some might consider stereotypically effeminate. The idea of Dark!Harry has inspired hundreds of fanfics.

The bang relationship can also be used in the noun!fic form, referring to things like wing!fic, crack!fic, rape!fic and so on. However, in this case, it's usually also acceptable to omit the exclamation mark and make it one word, which does not happen for trait!character expressions.

Moonbeam's Predilections defined ! in their "Fanfiction Terminology":

! = The Exclamation Mark or 'Bang' Symbol -- refers to a short form for expressing the presence of a particular trait or defining quality of a character in a story. One which is usually not part of the original canon characterization, or is at least an extreme interpretation of the canon characterization. Most often written in the format of trait first and character's name last, with the symbol in between. (For example: "Smart!Jack" in Stargate: SG-1, indicating that the character of Jack O'Neill is secretly smarter than he pretends to be.) The compact format of [trait]![character's name] manages to quickly and clearly describe to the reader an accurate depiction of the author's choice in characterization before they even read the story. See also: BAMF and/or Limp!



Linguist Gretchen McCulloch discussed the origins and functions of "exclamation!compounds" on her blog in a 2013 post, noting a relevant UrbanDictionary definition from 2004. McCulloch described her own initial encounter with the convention:

My first memorable encounter with exclamation!compounds came from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a webseries in which many characters act out other characters in costume theatre. When a character is acting another, the resulting character-within-a-character is referred to by exclamation!compounding maincharacter!actedcharacter. For example, Jane playing Darcy is Jane!Darcy, and likewise for Lizzie!MrsBennet and Charlotte!MrBennet.[2]

X-Files Origin Story

The adj!noun format is purported to have started in X-Files fandom. Good examples for this are Wombat's Spotter's Guide to the Common Krycek and the accompanying Spotter's Guide to the Common Mulder where several Krycek sub-species such as Bad to the Bone!Krycek, Bad but Lovin'!Krycek, Hot'n'dirty!Krycek or Misunderstood!Krycek and Mulder sub-subspecies such as Angst!Mulder, Basketcase!Mulder, HappySlut!Mulder, Sensitive!Mulder and WellAdjusted!Mulder are described. The first usage was Action!Mulder, referring to canon scenes where Mulder suddenly went all actiony (instead of talky), followed by Saint!Scully. Eventually they lost the initial capitals and the canon connections; by the time it hit other fandoms, it was being used to describe fannish things.[3]

Another X-Files mention, this one from the FAQ for OBSSE in 1997: "'Where did "!Scully" come from?' This is a sort of shorthand for describing our favorite characters, depending on what they were doing (such as Action!Scully or Kickass!Scully). It's sort of a designation for hypothetical action figures. For more information on some of the Order's favorite hypothetical action figures, see the October 1997 OBSSE Newsletter Poll." [4][5]

Email Bang Paths Origin Story

On July 4, 2014 molly-ren received a question on her blog on Tumblr, about the possible origins of using !:

hey what's up with the "!" in fandoms? just curious thaxxx[6]
woodsgotweird said: man i just jumped on the bandwagon because i am a sheep. i have no idea where it came from and i ask myself this question all the time

Maybe someone made a typo and it just got out of hand?[7]

Before long, other users decided to give their pennies something to what they believed:

I kinda feel like panic!at the disco started the whole exclamation point thing and then it caught on around the internet, but maybe they got it from somewhere else, IDK. The world may never know…[8]
I’ve been in fandom since *about* when Panic! formed and the adjective!character thing was already going strong, pretty sure it predates them.[9]
It’s a way of referring to particular variations of (usually) a character — dark!Will, junkie!Sherlock, et cetera. I have suspected for a while that it originated from some archive system that didn’t accommodate spaces in its tags, so to make common interpretations/versions of the characters searchable, people started jamming the words together with an infix. (Lately I’ve seen people use the ! notation when the suffix isn’t the full name, but is actually the second part of a common fandom portmanteau. This bothers me a lot but it happens, so it’s worth being aware of.)[10]

Behold, on the 7th of that same month, nentuaby added his comment on the discussion, with direct response from raincityruckus:

“Bang paths” (! is called a “bang"when not used for emphasis) were the first addressing scheme for email, before modern automatic routing was set up. If you wanted to write a mail to the Steve here in Engineering, you just wrote "Steve” in the to: field and the computer sent it to the local account named Steve. But if it was Steve over in the physics department you wrote it to phys!Steve; the computer sent it to the “phys” computer, which sent it in turn to the Steve account. To get Steve in the Art department over at NYU, you wrote NYU!art!Steve- your computer sends it to the NYU gateway computer sends it to the “art” computer sends it to the Steve account. Etc. (“Bang"s were just chosen because they were on the keyboard, not too visually noisy, and not used for a huge lot already).

It became pretty standard jargon, as I understand, to disambiguate when writing to other humans. First phys!Steve vs the Steve right next to you, just like you were taking to the machine, then getting looser (as jargon does) to reference, say, bearded!Steve vs bald!Steve.

So I’m guessing alternate character version tags probably came from that.[11]

100% born of bang paths. fandom has be floating around on the internet for six seconds longer than there has been an internet so early users just used the jargon associated with the medium and since it’s a handy shorthand, we keep it.[12]

This description of bang paths lines up with definition in the hacker dictionary known as the Jargon File,[13] which lends credence to this definition.

Programming Language Origin Story

In November 2012 at a Tumblr post, tawnyport connected the fannish usage of ! to C/C++ coding conventions:


question: why do we put an exclamation mark between words when describing a different version of a character?

is it cause we’re really excited about it because like whenever I see “femme!dean” or something I’m imagining that everyone’s fucking thrilled that dean is female and we’re throwing a parade[14]
[tawnyport reblogged novakian]
It’s originally from C/C++ code. If you have a boolean variable that’s true or false and you put a ! in front of it, it just flips the value. If the variable is X and X is true, then !X is false. So it’s basically saying the character is the variable, ! activates a different version of the variable, and the identifier at the front tells you what version of the variable it is. It used to be a lot more specific when I first started roleplaying (the first time I saw this used was in tm but obviously it was around way before that).[14]

Thus, Saint!Scully would essentially mean, a characterization (in fanworks) of Scully as a saint which diverges from who Scully really is in the show. This explanation is fairly poorly supported, however, since this usage diverges fairly heavily from both its actual usage in fandom and its usage in programming language syntax. It is therefore likely apocryphal.


  1. ^ Moonbeam's Fanfiction Predilections: "Fanfiction Terminology - Moonbeam's Predilections". 2018-06-07. Archived from the original on 2018-06-07.
  2. ^ "All Things Linguistic". 2013-03-27. Archived from the original on 2022-04-09.
  3. ^ See the related Talk:! page.
  4. ^ Actually, it was a poll in the September 1997 issue.
  5. ^ "OBSSE FAQ – VERSION 4.11". 2000-05-31. Archived from the original on 2022-04-09.
  6. ^ "Stuffies". 2014-07-04. Archived from the original on 2022-04-09.
  7. ^ "Stuffies: "Maybe someone made a typo and it just ..." 2014-07-04. Archived from the original on 2022-04-09.
  8. ^ "hey what's up with the "!" in fandoms? i.e. "fat!"... - let's break f…". 2014-07-04. Archived from the original on 2022-04-09.
  9. ^ "Untitled — hey what's up with the "!" in fandoms? i.e. "fat!"..." 2014-07-06. Archived from the original on 2022-04-09.
  10. ^ "Minstrels of a Hyaena (hey what's up with the "!" in fandoms? i.e. "f…". 2014-07-06. Archived from the original on 2022-04-09.
  11. ^ "Nentuaby's Tumblr — hey what's up with the "!" in fandoms? i.e. "fat!…". 2014-07-07. Archived from the original on 2022-04-09.
  12. ^ "¯\_(ツ)_/¯ — hey what's up with the "!" in fandoms? i.e. "fat!"..." 2014-07-13. Archived from the original on 2022-04-09.
  13. ^ "bang path". 2022-06-04. Archived from the original on 2008-02-16.
  14. ^ a b "sparkling wide pressure, novakian: question: why do we put..." 2012-11-18. Archived from the original on 2022-04-09.
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