Who knew?!

Did you notice the punctuation after this post’s title? I see variants of this fairly often these days, especially in the less formal writing that is typical of many blogs, but I didn’t realize until I started searching for an “i” topic for this week’s AlphabeThursday that there is already a punctuation mark that combines a question mark and an exclamation point into a single symbol. Here’s the story:

The mark is used to express a combination of rhetorical question and an exclamation of surprise or wonder or perhaps an expression of dismay such as “You did what?!” Ad executive Martin Speckter noticed that copywriters sometimes used both marks together and, in 1962, asked readers of TYPEtalks Magazine to suggest a name and shape for the character. After considering proposals including rhet, exclarotive, and exclamaquest, Speckter chose the name interrobang, which combined interrogation (for the question mark) and bang (printer’s slang for the exclamation point). Pretty cool, don’t you think

There was some initial interest in adding the interrobang to the common print set, including favorable comments in both the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine. The American Type Founders Americana typeface, issued in 1966, included the interrobang symbol. In 1968, Remington Rand added the symbol to some of its typewriters, and during the 1970s, users of Smith-Corona typewriters could buy replacement interrobang keycaps and typefaces.

The interrobang was never adopted as standard punctuation, but it is available (via your application’s symbol library) for several digital fonts including Palatino Linotype, Calibri, and Arial Unicode MS, and Microsoft’s Wingdings 2 character set allows direct input of the symbol via the right bracket key (]).

It turns out that even though the symbol is not widely used, the term “interrobang” is popular for many uses. Query the term in your favorite search engine and you will soon discover its use for at least one magazine title, a theatre group or two, and a number of printing- and graphic design-related enterprises.
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Posted for Jenny Matlock’s AlphabeThursday study of the letter “I.” For Round 5 of this long-running meme, I am focusing on colloquialisms and idioms—words and phrases that are unique to a region or have meanings that aren’t necessarily discernible from the combined meanings of the individual words. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s mini-exploration of American history as much as I have.
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Sources for this post include:
Shady Characters~The secret life of punctuation: The Interrobang, Part 1, Part 2, Addenda
World Wide Words~Weird Words

23 thoughts on “Who knew?!

  1. Pingback: Of earrings & figurines « Tidbits & Treasures

  2. How fun! I think I’m the master of the interrobang! I like using them in multiples! This is so fun! I wrote this down on my whiteboard so I can use it in interesting ways.

    Thank you, thank you for a really fun link for the letter “I”.


  3. I never knew this! You are a mine of information … I love the concept, the name and the graphic – I want one in all my favourite fonts!

  4. I use the ‘interrobang’ quite often…but had no idea that it was a legitimate piece of punctuation, far less that it had a name! TFS!
    Alison xx

  5. Letter Thrusdays is rapidly becoming a high point for the week of blogging. I am amazed that not only does the character exists, but that it was invented in the 60’s (it could have been a hippy symbol). Being my niave self, I assumed it was standard fare on keyboards (just a character I didn’t use therefore did not recognize), since the days even before keyboards.Thank you Wanda, this is so much fun.

    • Bill, your “hippy” comment on my interrobang post made me smile because I had an almost identical reaction and I too was surprised that it was invented as recently as the 60s–it seems like only yesterday!

  6. Oh, I love this! In all my graphic design studies, this never came up but it is a perfect combination of puncuation for that situation.

  7. that is so cool! although i never use ?!, i’m sure i would find myself using the interrobang simply because it’s so pretty 🙂

  8. Wow – this is very interesting. I am guilty of using ‘?!’ in my casual writing, but never new that ‘interrobang’ existed. I think I will investigate a little further

  9. Fascinating! I didn’t know this at all, I’d never heard of it. Now I have a new word as well as a symbol. I bet it’s going to turn up as a crossword clue one of these days..

    Fun post Wanda! It’s good to be back and catching up

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