“…punctuation marks are the traffic signals of language: they tell us to slow down, notice this, take a detour, and stop.”
My hat is off to Martin K. Speckter (June 14, 1915 – February 14, 1988) even though he is no longer with us. Mr. Speckter is the inventor of the little-used, and even littler-known, punctuation mark called the Interrobang. An interrobang is a combination of a question mark and an exclamation point and it looks like this:
In 1962, Mr. Speckter, who ran an ad agency, believed that advertising would be improved with the use of rhetorical questions and surprise, which were denoted by the use of the question mark and exclamation point together, much as we do today. As editor of TYPEtalks magazine, he was in a great position to write an article suggesting the adoption of a single punctuation mark for that purpose. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know), Speckter solicited name ideas from readers, eventually choosing from entries like ‘exclarotive,’ ‘exclamaquest,’ and ‘rhet.’ He settled on interrobang, because it alluded to the punctuation marks it came from: interrogatio is Latin for ‘an inquiry’ and bang is printers’ jargon for the exclamation mark.
The lowly interrobang serves the unique purpose of punctuating those comments that express incredulity (“You’re wearing that‽”), surprise (“You’re pregnant‽”), or disbelief (“Really‽”), or punctuates a rhetorical question (“What were they thinking‽”). Normally, when we write those kinds of sentences, we tend to use both a question mark and an exclamation point to convey the mix of question and exclamation, or, if we tend toward the exaggerated, an alternating string of those marks. Like using multiple exclamation points or question marks, the alternating string is not for formal writing. It is considered poor style and is only used casually. Enter the interrobang — one mark is all you need!
Except that Speckter never managed to push the interrobang into the mainstream. It was featured in the ‘Americana’ typeface, and you could get a typewriter with an interrobang key at one point, but after the 1960’s, the honeymoon was over. You can still find it in some character sets, like the Calibri font set, but it is definitely a non-standard mark. Obscure, if you will.
I think the interrobang needs a resurgence — a revival. We need to use it! When neither a question mark nor exclamation point — nor both — quite fit, the interrobang hits the spot. Like a cold beer on a hot day, it just works. Don’t ask why.