October 25, 2011

Proving a Point

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

Q: When is a question not a question?

A: When it ends with an interrobang!

Say what?! 

My point exactly.  Or, more specifically, an exclamation point.  With a question mark added.

The first time I ever saw an interrobang was while thumbing through one of my dad’s trade publications (he was an artist and a fan of fonts).  The magazine article introduced what was then thought to be an up-and-coming addition to the typography landscape, a symbol combining a question mark with an exclamation point, because there are times when just one or the other won’t do, and it would help to have both in one convenient punctuation. It could be used for rhetorical questions, or to exclaim disbelief.

Even as a youngster I thought this was rather ingenious, and it stuck with me.  I never knew its name, but for decades, whenever I had occasion to end a sentence with ?! I wondered what ever became of that funny mark.

Last week a friend reintroduced me to it, revealing its real name of “interrobang”, a cross between “interrogation mark” (the fancy name for question mark) and “bang” (a printer’s nickname for exclamation point), and I have to say, it was nice to see my old acquaintance after all these years.  I also discovered that it has gone by other names, like “rhet” – which is kinda catchy – and the somewhat clumsier “exclamaquest”.  (That one rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?!)

Despite actually making an appearance on some typewriters back in the day, alas, the interrobang never managed to enter the ranks of standard punctuation.  Yet, encouragingly, some font sets (certain versions of Calibri, Cambria, Lucinda and Palatino, among others) even today support it.  In fact, next time you’re playing around in Wingdings 2, hit the ] key (for right bracket) and you’ll see Mr Rhetoric.

No doubt we’ll see the introduction of many more wingdings and other typeable oddities in our lifetime.  But I’d love to see this particularly purposeful punctuation point prove popular before I die.  And when I go, let me go out with an interrobang.

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