Interrobang

interrobang

The interrobang [in-ter-uh-bang], ‽ (often represented by ?! or !?), is a nonstandard punctuation mark used in various written languages and intended to combine the functions of the question mark (also called the ‘interrogative point’) and the exclamation mark or exclamation point (known in printers’ jargon as the ‘bang’). The glyph is a superimposition of these two marks. A sentence ending with an interrobang asks a question in an excited manner, expresses excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asks a rhetorical question.

Many writers, especially in informal writing, have used multiple punctuation marks to end a sentence expressing surprise and question. Like multiple exclamation marks and multiple question marks, such strings are poor style in formal writing. Writers had combined question marks and exclamation marks (along with using multiple punctuation marks) for decades before the ‘invention’ of the interrobang. They were prevalent in informal media such as print advertisements and comic books.

They also occur in algebraic chess notation, with ‘?!’ identifying an interesting move that may not be the best, and ‘!?’ labeling an unexpected move that turns out to be good. In algebraic chess notation, a ‘?’ identifies a dubious move, while a ‘!’ means a very good move.

American Martin K. Speckter conceptualized the interrobang in 1962. As the head of an advertising agency, Speckter believed that advertisements would look better if copywriters conveyed surprised rhetorical questions using a single mark. He proposed the concept of a single punctuation mark in an article in the magazine ‘TYPEtalks.’ Speckter solicited possible names for the new character from readers. Contenders included rhet, exclarotive, and exclamaquest, but he settled on interrobang. He chose the name to reference the punctuation marks that inspired it: interrogatio is Latin for ‘a rhetorical question’ or ‘cross-examination’; bang is printers’ slang for the exclamation mark. Graphic treatments for the new mark were also submitted in response to the article.

The interrobang was in vogue for much of the 1960s, with the word interrobang appearing in some dictionaries and the mark itself being featured in magazine and newspaper articles. The interrobang failed to amount to much more than a fad, however. It has not become a standard punctuation mark. Although most fonts do not include the interrobang, it has not disappeared: Microsoft provides several versions of the interrobang character as part of the Wingdings 2 character set available with Microsoft Office.

A reverse and upside down interrobang, suitable for starting phrases in Spanish, Galician, and Asturian is called by some a gnaborretni (interrobang written backwards). In current practice, interrobang-like emphatic ambiguity in Hispanic languages is usually achieved by including both sets of punctuation marks one inside the other (¿¡Verdad!? or ¡¿Verdad?! [Really!?]). Older usage, still official but not widespread, recommended mixing the punctuation marks: ¡Verdad? or ¿Verdad!

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