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.
Don’t think it’s gradual demise is something to worry about? Just look at what’s happening to the semicolon.
So stop throwing around those goddamn commas like you own the place; semicolons deserve a little respect.
A funny quote from a worldwidewords.org 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.