Monday, September 26, 2005


The 1960's were a time of almost unprecedented cultural and social change in America - our attitudes about race, sex, and politics underwent a dramatic upheaval as the youth in the country rebelled against the conservatism of their parents and forged its own identity.

However, one of the greatest revolutions failed to materialize. Instead, it was left behind - a remnant of a cultural change that failed to take hold. I'm speaking, of course, about the interrobang - the little punctuation mark that could.

Devised by advertising exec Mark Speckter in 1962, the interrobang seamlessly combines the inquisitive nature of the question mark and the blunt forwardness of an exclamation - making it the perfect end to that snarky rhetorical question you are asking and answering at the same time.

Who died and made Mark Speckter king of punctuation ‽ Great question/statement . . . and one that is perfect for an interrobang.

The name of the beautifully simple symbol comes from an amalgamation of the Latin "interro" for question and the printer's slang term for an exclamation point ("bang"). Unfortunately, the interrobang never caught on, and people have continued to inefficiently place their exclamation points and question marks adjacent to one another. (Why would you do that?!?!? Are you crazy‽) Apparently, it is harder than you would think to get stubborn English writer's to simplify their language - as only a small following are dedicated enough to keep the interrobang in use today. Which is bizarre considering the ubiquity of the smiley face emoticon :)

Sam from the cartoon strip The Moseying is down with the interrobang.
Shouldn't you be‽

However, I refuse to let the interrobang die. Its brilliant simplicity and uniquely American heritage make it a worthy punctuation mark to rally behind. It's capable of capturing everything from the biting accusation of "Who died and made you king‽" to the irony and sarcasm in "So, how long have you had your lips surgically fused to the boss's rectum‽" to the blatant offensiveness of "Could you be a bigger douchebag‽" Isn't that a powerful written tool‽

If you like, we can even take the argument for the interrobang to the spiritual level, as Ron Shuresa does here.

"Not unlike the relationship between the masculine and feminine is the dynamic between the slam and the query. In form no less than function, the question represents the feminine and receptive, the exclamation symbolizes the masculine and assertive. In cultures around the world and throughout history, the union of the masculine and feminine has been regarded as the sacred conjunction of the two most elemental principles. The point upon which the two pieces stand individually -- as well as dance together in the combined form of the interrobang -- represents the seed (or bindu, in Sanskrit) of the entire cosmic creation, the neutral ground upon which the duality of male and female appear."

Gripping stuff.

So I encourage all of you to integrate the interrobang into your daily writing. There is info on how to create the symbol on your computer here. And for detailed histories of this overlooked innovator of the punctuation family you can check out Shuresa's essay here and the unofficial interrobang site here.

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