You know I love unusual words, right? Well, here’s another one. This time its not only an unusual word but a non standard punctuation mark as well! Bonus!
So what the **** is an Interrobang?
The Interrobang, also known as the Interabang‽, is an unconventional punctuation mark used in various written languages and which is intended to combine the functions of the question mark, (or interrogative point), and the exclamation mark, (or exclamation point), which is known in the jargon of printers and programmers as a “bang”. (The exclamation mark is also sometimes called a “screamer” in the advertising business, especially in a headline.)
So who invented the Interrobang, and why?
1962 was a truly momentous year in the USA.
John Glenn became the first American, and only the second human, to reach orbit; unforgettably, the Kennedy administration successfully negotiated the nuclear tightrope of the Cuban missile crisis, taking the world within a hair’s breadth of nuclear war in the process; and NASA launched the world’s first telecommunications satellite, ushering in a new era of instantaneous global communications.
Consumer society too was reaching new heights: advertising ruled, and the advertising agencies were springing up everywhere and ideas were burgeoning.
Anyway, one particular New York ad exec turned his attention to lofty matters. Martin K. Speckter (pictured left) was the head of his own New York advertising agency with no less than the Wall Street Journal account on his books.
He was a keen hobbyist typographer, he also edited Type Talks, a bimonthly journal published by the Advertising Typographers Association of America which explored the use of type in advertising. He grew frustrated with the increasing tendency of copywriters to combine the exclamation mark and question mark to yield a surprised or rhetorical question, for example: “Who would punctuate a sentence like that?!”
So Speckter penned an article for Type Talks to offer a solution. ‘Making a new point, or, how about that…’ appeared in the March-April 1962 issue and argued that there was a need for a single punctuation mark to replace the ugly, jury-rigged construction of a question mark followed by an exclamation mark.
As the article went on to explain, this putative symbol was intended to convey a very particular mixture of surprise and doubt:
To this day, we don’t know exactly what Columbus had in mind when he shouted ‘Land, ho.’ Most historians insist that he cried, ‘Land, ho!’ but there are others who claim it was really ‘Land ho?’. Chances are the intrepid Columbus was both excited and doubtful, but neither at that time did we, nor even yet, do we, have a point which clearly combines and melds interrogation with exclamation. So we need an interrobang here.
Presenting a set of speculative designs for his creation, rendered by his agency’s art director Jack Lipton, Speckter tentatively named the new mark the ‘Exclamaquest’ or ‘Interrobang’.
Here are the “tentative” designs that Jack Lipton created.
He ended the article with an invitation to “Join the exalted ranks of Aldus, Bodoni et al” by calling for readers to supply their own interpretations of the symbol’s design, and solicited new names to compare with his own suggestions.
There are other designs that were then offered as the new “interrobang”. I wonder what you think of any of these describes the interrobang adquately for you.? I rather like Frank Davies’s effort.
So in 1962 Mr. Speckter developed the Interrobang, which has since recognized by several dictionaries and even some type and typewriter companies. In the end, mirroring the popularity of Speckter’s own term ‘Interrobang’ over the other suggestions for its name, his simple superposition of a question and exclamation mark (like this: ‘‽’) would prevail, becoming the model for most future interpretations of the symbol.
In 1968 Remington Rand, a prominent typewriter manufacturer, had an announcement to make: “Remington Rand offers the new punctuation mark, the
Interrobang (a combination of ? and !), as a special type face for its Model 25 Electrics.” The brevity of this report belied its significance. The Interrobang’s path had been cleared all the way from the writer’s desk to the printing presses, and a new wave of enthusiasm for the Interrobang was in the offing.
The thing I can’t believe is how they pronounce this word – here it is on You Tube.
I think it should be In- terro-(rhymes with ferro)-bang, but it’s not my call!
So anyhow, how does one use an Interrobang?
The mark is said to be the typographical equivalent of a grimace or a shrug of the shoulders. It applied solely to the rhetorical, Mr. Speckter said, when a writer wished to convey incredulity.
For example, the Interrobang would be used in an expression like this: ”You call that a hat?” with the interrobang replacing the humble (and less excited) question mark.
If you want to read about where in publishing the Interrobang has been used, I suggest you read the articles both by Shady Characters – a fascinating blog about such topics. Here’s Shady Characters’ first article, and second article.
All well and good. But where do I find an Interrobang in Skype and on Word?
In Skype, the Interrobang is actually an animated emoticon found in the lower right corner. In this application, it’s known as the ‘What’s Going On’ emoticon, and it alternates between question mark and exclamation point.
Well, personally I don’t use Skype so I can’t tell you if this actually works!
Are there other marks we don’t know about? Yes, there are!
I’m uber-delighted to let you know that I’ve discovered other unused punctuation marks that I really think we should all campaign to use ….
I can’t wait to tell you about them, particularly the SarcMark! Won’t we enjoy that one? But that will all have to wait for another blog.