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Synonyms: bang, 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![1]


In 2012 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
[tawnyport reblogged novakian[2]]
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).

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.[3]

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.[4]

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." [5][6]

Some believe that the use of the exclamation mark came originally from coding, particularly javascript, where it has the meaning of "not". 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 possible origin remains obscure, though, and this belief about the bang appears nowadays quite rare.

Email Origin Story

raincityruckus posted on Tumblr, Archived version
“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.[7]


  1. ^ Moonbeam's Predilections. "Fanfiction Terminology". Retrieved February 9, 2019. 
  2. ^ tawnyport. "Tumblr post". Retrieved February 9, 2019. 
  3. ^ Gretchen McCulloch (March 27, 2013). "Exclamation!compounds". Retrieved February 9, 2019. 
  4. ^ Talk:!
  5. ^ Actually, it was a poll in the September 1997 issue.
  6. ^ FAQ, Archived version
  7. ^ "nentuaby post on tumblr -- wayback archive". 2014-07-07. Retrieved 2015-05-09. 
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