I have asked this myself in the past and never gotten an answer.
Maybe today will be the day we are both finally enlightened.
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?
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…
Maybe it’s something mathematical?
I’ve been in fandom since *about* when Panic! formed and the adjective!character thing was already going strong, pretty sure it predates them.
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.)
“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.
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.