interrobang

An “interrobang” is a non-standard punctuation mark indicating a question expressed in an exclamatory manner. The punctuation mark consists of an exclamation point and a question mark superimposed on top of one another.

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. It can be said to be the typographical equivalent of a grimace or a shrug of the shoulders.

Often represented by ?!, !?, ?!? or !?!, the interrobang is unconventional but used in various written languages to combine the functions of question mark and exclamation mark. The term “interrobang” was first proposed in 1962 by Martin K. Speckter.

Speckter chose the name to reference the punctuation marks that inspired it: interrogatio is Latin for “rhetorical question” or “cross-examination”; bang is printers’ slang for the exclamation mark.

The interrobang was in vogue for much of the 1960s; the word appeared in some dictionaries, and the mark was used in magazine and newspaper articles. It is almost never seen today. Most fonts do not include the interrobang, but it has not disappeared.

A reverse and upside-down interrobang suitable for starting phrases in Spanish, Galician and Asturian, which use inverted question and exclamation marks, is called an “inverted interrobang” but is rarely used. The emphatic ambiguity in Hispanic languages is usually achieved by including both sets of punctuation marks one inside the other. For example, the phrase meaning “Really!” would be ¿¡De verdad!? or ¡¿De verdad?!

The State Library of New South Wales, in Australia, uses an interrobang as its logo, as does the educational publishing company Pearson, which thus intends to convey “the excitement and fun of learning.”

Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook used an interrobang in the 2012 United States Seventh Circuit opinion Robert F. Booth Trust v. Crowley.

I don’t like the combination of the two marks into one, because it’s difficult to discern whether it’s an interrobang, or just a printing smear. But I like the idea of using both. The stuffy people forbid the use; the rest of us say why not?!

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