The Interrobang: More Bang for your…Punctuation

The Interrobang (found on Google images)

The 1960s brought us many great things. The halogen lamp. Valium. And the interrobang. In 1962, a new form of punctuation was born. This was not in any history textbook I ever received (of course neither was the creation of valium). Perhaps it is just a little blip in the history of our language and the written word, but the interrobang is important too, if for no reason other than to serve as an example of human ingenuity when faced with space issues in the world of publication.

For those of you who are unaware, “the INTERROBANG was created to fill a gap in our punctuation system where writers often used typographically cumbersome and unattractive combinations of the question mark and exclamation mark to punctuate rhetorical statements where neither the question nor an exclamation alone exactly served the writer” ( Supposedly the interrobang “can [also] convey in print an attitude, curiosity and wonder” ( I don’t know about you, but I agonize over word choice so that I don’t have to rely on punctuation to make my point. But perhaps this is a dying art.

The man responsible for the interrobang was Martin K. Speckter, a big shot from the ad agency world. They even produced some typewriters with a special key for this punctuation mark for a time.

Typewriter with Interrobang symbol (found on Google images)

Sure the interrobang is novel, clever even. But is such a specimen of punctuation really sufficient to cover the needs of written communication? Due to the nature and significance of digital communication in our society, punctuation is of vital importance. Some people deem it to be completely unnecessary and toss it out altogether. On the other end of the spectrum, there exist some individuals who overly use punctuation in a flurry of emotional upheaval. They are particularly fond of the exclamation and question marks. So much for standardization.

I would argue that the interrobang does not satisfy the needs of our digital-communication-based society. If you really think about it, the interrobang is too ambiguous for any society that communicates via the written word.

If I write a sentence and end it with “?!”, it means something different than if I end a sentence with “!?”. So how on earth can I end a sentence with “‽” ? I might use the “?!” if I am asking an emphatic question. But I would use “!?” if I was making a statement with a questioning tone and my sentence had no actual question in it. You know what I’m talking about. It’s a voice inflection thing that occurs when a person offers a statement but makes their voice go up at the end of a sentence as if they were asking a question and thus prevents the individual from taking ownership of whatever it is they are actually saying.

Yes, perhaps the interrobang saves space; and we all know how important space is in the publishing world, but it is no cure-all. So then why would I pile both marks on top of one another simply for the sake of marking it rhetorical or full of attitude? Sure it looks interesting. But, like a comma splice, it serves no real purpose and adds nothing to the sentence. Plus, I have to believe that we all have a wide enough vocabulary to supply emotion to a sentence without relying on punctuation to do it for us.

Unfortunately, today’s society is more focused on word count than the beauty of language. And it all seems to be for the sake of space. Who can write a story/poem/thought in 140 characters (Thank you Twitter.) Sure it’s a fun game to play, but if you really think about it, language suffers by such stringent restrictions.

The same thing happens with punctuation overuse. We cut out language for convenience sake (or for whatever other reason) and add 10 exclamation points to show that we are passionate.

I certainly don’t support the use of multiple punctuation marks simultaneously, even if you have the space in which to execute it. If your sentence requires this, I suggest you revise and perhaps consult a thesaurus. I doubt Shakespeare would have supported such a convention.

Although I don’t support the use of the interrobang, the creation of this little mark signifies the ingenious and questing nature of people. I certainly have an appreciation for that. Martin Speckter simply sought a way to make communication/understanding easier. And so, in tribute to Mr. Martin K. Speckter, I offer up these interrobang-worthy sentences.

She said what‽
Are your sure about that‽
When did you start using an interrobang‽

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