Interrobang ?!

Interrobang with explanation

I was editing my new novel when I ran across this sentence: “What the fuck?!”

I couldn’t remember how to handle the question mark and the exclamation point. Was ‘?!’right, or do I swap them, or maybe one goes outside the quotes? I had no idea. So I asked Google. And found this little guy:


The interrobang. Turns out, a lot of grammarian purists will look down their noses at you if you use both punctuation marks together. The Committee of Right and Proper wants me to pick only one and use it. Which I could, if I didn’t want to be difficult. But I do. And besides, I like quirky things that no one seems to know about or understand. They remind me of myself.

Turns out if you are going to offend the elite, you can place the punctuation like I have above, the order being dependent on whether the questioning or the surprise is more important. I feel that in WTF cases, the person is slightly more confused and questioning than they are excited. Maybe if they had banged their thumb with a hammer, the exclamation point would deserve first place. If you can’t bring yourself to choose between amazement and confusion, you can really shun the literary OCD’s by using something that an American, Martin K. Speckter, invented in 1962. The interrobang. The glyph is a mesh of both symbols.

The word is a mashup of (interro)gation and bang, printer-speak for the exclamation point. It enjoyed fame through the 60s and then faded from use, but didn’t go extinct. It’s still available in several fonts. It was the first new punctuation mark in 300 years and the only one created by an American. Maybe that’s why we refuse to let it perish. You can see from the Google Ngram View below that it’s never really been popular, but if we can keep its interest growing at this rate, we should see the interrobang’s widespread use in just 500 years. Think about the future, people.

Google nGram View of interrobang

Don’t think it’s gradual demise is something to worry about? Just look at what’s happening to the semicolon.

Death of the Semicolon

So stop throwing around those goddamn commas like you own the place; semicolons deserve a little respect.

A funny quote from a article on the interrobang where a writer offers his own new glyphs:

Life, 15 Nov. 1968. The writer, William Zinsser, jokingly suggested amperstop (&;) “to catch that delicate moment when you want to say something more and then think better of it” and the percentoquote (%”) “to suggest that the person being quoted should be only partially believed.”

Now days we’ve taken punctuation to the next level by pimping them out as emoticons, and in the process separating the original meaning from characters entirely: (^_^) I have to wonder what the purists, who are offended by the interrobang, think of emoticons? The horror.

I decided to keep the meanings and developed my own punctuation marks:

Questrophe – apostrophe and question mark for possessives when you’re not sure if something belongs to that person or not.


Asterenthesis – parenthesis and asterisk for when you can only remember the first letter of a word. Why does the writer have to do all the work? Let’s leave a little mystery for the readers.


My wife’s is the Commaquest, a question mark with a comma for when you aren’t sure if a comma goes there or not. Want to place the commaquest between a noun and its restrictive form of identification? Go ahead.


My daughter’s is the Questation Mark, a question mark and quotation mark for when you’re not sure if they really said it or not.

 Questation mark

How To Write Your Own Perfect Sentence

Peter Pan First Sentence Diagrammed


After reading Stanley Fish’s book How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One, I decided to do something that I’m usually too lazy to do; actually practice some of the exercises in the book. But first, the book.

There is what seems like an implausible expectation in the title. You might be thinking, okay, I can see how someone could write a book about how to read a book. There’s a lot of concepts, styles, theories, messages, meanings, etc., that one could spend ages deconstructing and studying how to consume each work. But to try and pull the stage curtain back on a single sentence? But Stanley manages to do so, and I can definitely say that, although the central dogma is the same for understanding anything on a higher level, I learned some new and helpful things. And that central dogma is reflection.

All of us have, at some point, stayed up late studying or reading for pleasure and arrived at the point where we’ve read the same sentence four or five times and never gleamed any meaning from it whatsoever. The words are nothing more than that, words. And at some point, we’ve all listened to a professor wax poetic for what seemed like hours about hidden meanings in obscure books, as we sat drooling from the corner of our mouths and wryly imagining that the author was still alive so they could burst into the room and scream at the pontificator of pomp that they never created a work where a tree was the metaphor for how a father treats his son. There is surely a safe and happy place between these two pointless points, one devoid of meaning and one bloated with pregnant apples just out of reach, where one can reflect on a book, paragraph, sentence, or even a word itself (in context), and not feel empty or pretentious. A reasonable amount of contemplation where we can achieve more than visceral pleasure without looking at every glass of water in the book as an element of baptism or birth.

Stanley Fish introduces us to the formula – Sentence craft equals sentence comprehension equals sentence appreciation. If you write sentences, and then strive to understand them on a slightly higher level, you will appreciate them more.

The key is understanding the skeleton within each sentence. Once you understand this inner structure and can separate the framing from the interior decorating, you can then imitate great sentences by substituting your own fleshy content in place of the author’s. His first example is the beginning of Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky . This is the perfect separation of sentence structure and content:

Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves

Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:

All mimsy were ye borogoves;

And ye mome raths outgrabe.


You can understand the layout of the sentence enough to substitute your own words and have it make perfect sense.

Twas dusky, and ye slimy toads

did swim and paddle in the pond.


You get the idea. And you can do this with any sentence once you spend the time to break it down and really understand it. He makes it a careful point not to get too caught up in the whole parts of speech naming or pointing out every single literary term. The main point is how the different parts of the sentence relate to each other; the philosophy of the sentence. Stanley points out a few main types of sentences. Subordinate is a rigid approach that sets up expectations and then follows through. Additive is a more stream of consciousness approach, where you might move from past to present and back to the past, or even jump around subjects without warning. Satire is a style that promises one direction and then moves in another. You can pick a style that suites you, but the subordinate is the easiest to imitate.

I like this because it’s an algorithmic approach to literary creation that seems, to a lot of people, a great mystery. It’s a method by which, with nothing more than reflection and a few awkward starts, you can create sentences similar to your favorite authors. It’s not impossible.

I handed my wife a Virginia Woolf book called The Voyage Out, and she picked out this sentence:

Angry glances struck upon their backs.

Angry glances. Angry is specific, emotionally. It lies between peeved and hateful. Not fighting mad yet, but on the way. Glances is plural, which tells us right away that there are many people who are mad, not just one. And it’s a glance, not a stare, which would be confrontational. Instead, these people aren’t about to let whoever they’re glancing at know their emotional state. Struck. These glances are being delivered with physicality. Looks that leave whelps. Upon their backs. It’s more than one person absorbing ill will from this crowd. That’s a decent amount of information gleaned from a short sentence, and all we had to do was slow down and take a minute to really get at the essence of the sentence.

Then, you define the parts of the sentence, and substitute your ideas and words. My definition for this sentence is – something nonphysical, preceded by a description, acting physically on something else. Here is my wife’s first and very literal attempt because she really didn’t understand what we were doing (She was bored the minute I told her the name of the book).

Frustrated stares physically affected their heads.

And a funnier one:

Pissed off passersby provided them with pitiful attempts at provocative looks.

And my attempt:

Useless hopes bounced off her horn-rimmed glasses.

No awards imminent here. But you get the gist. It’s the practice that counts.

Here is another sentence taken from Victoria Laurie’s book Ghouls Gone Wild:

I’ve always believed in ghosts.

It’s a first sentence, and a good one. It’s short and hits you quick and strong, like a jab in a boxing match. There is no hesitation. I’ve. It’s in first person, so by definition, it’s personal. This is not something one screams to the people in a food court. It’s something you might tell a good friend or a small, close group of people you trust. The reader is already in a one-on-one with you. They are perhaps being let in on a secret. Always. Not sometimes. There is no room for doubt. Always believed in. This is something that has always been, and isn’t it harder to question things that have always been? This isn’t a statement you have time to negotiate with. In ghosts. So you know what’s coming. This isn’t a book about trolls, goblins, or sorcery. Ghosts are real, and you’re going to be seeing and believing in them pretty soon, if you don’t already. Ghosts. Plural. This isn’t one angry relative hanging around the kitchen table during dinners. They are many and everywhere.

The definition here, or structure, is a personal pronoun contraction followed by an adverb that connotes a definite history followed by what you’ve always done.

We’ve always swam barefoot in creeks.

I’ve never parallel parked a car in my life.

And so on. I surprised myself when I realized that a lot of kids today, myself included, already experience this type of algorithm every day without realizing it on the Internet. We’ve all seen a meme (Rhymes with seem). In its simplest form, it’s an idea that spreads. Here are two examples, the second one is mine:


Politically incorrect Sister



Republicans 1



You can see that it’s a skeleton concept, or structure, that you can fill in with your own content, or idea.

So my point is this – If a bunch of satirical Internet junkies in their pajamas can make us laugh everyday by using the same concept and changing the text, you can do the same thing with any sentence you love and create a perfect sentence of your own.