Skip to main content

Whither Goest The Interrobang‽

The cool thing about being a writer is that you're often given freedom to do unusual things or care about weird subjects. For example, when I go to a coffee shop, the logo on the cup and on the sleeve have to both line up with the drinking hole in the plastic lid.

It also means I have an unnatural interest in language and punctuation that borders on the freakish. By now, my family and friends are used to me kvetching about the Oxford comma, or yelling at TV newscasters, "It's 'A historic,' dammit! 'A historic,' not 'an!' You're being 'an moron!'"


I cringe whenever someone uses certain words incorrectly, kick and scream when the meaning of other words begins to evolve, or smile and say "English is an ever-changing tapestry" when I purposely violate long-held rules just to stick it to grammar sticklers.

Like this: It is actually perfectly acceptable to end your sentences with a preposition. But when I tell people this, they swear on the grave of their 7th grade English teacher that this is utter nonsense up with which they shall not put!

Sometimes people will share new (or previously undiscovered) words, grammar rules, and punctuation marks. A couple years ago, I was told about the existence of the interrobang, a punctuation mark that combines a question mark (?) and an exclamation point (!).

It looks like this: ‽

It's supposed to replace the ?! combination people use in angry questions, like "Who ate all my Cap'n Crunch?!" It could have been a very useful symbol for those people who hate the ?! combo, and believe we shouldn't double punctuate. They feel we should just ask the question and let the language show that it's an angry one.

Who appointed them the Arbiters of Punctuation‽

(See how that works?)

I was recently reading Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks —because because that's what writer nerds do — which is where I learned of the interrobang's origins.

It was created in 1962 by ad agency owner Martin Speckter, gained some media attention, and was added to the Remington Rand typewriter line in 1968. It was even included in a new font called Americana around that same time. You can still find it on your Mac or Windows computer today, if you know where to look.

As I was writing the first draft of this column on my typewriter — because that's what writer nerds do — I could easily create it by first hitting the "interro" (?), backspacing, and then follow it up with the "bang" (!).

The problem is, we Americans are set in our ways, and it takes a lot to get us to change how we do things, especially if it means adding new ideas and habits.

But that's not to say we didn't give it the old college try. Many people certainly tried to make a go of it. Even now, it's seeing a mild resurgence among a new generation of writers. It just never quite caught on, after being labeled a fad by many language snobs who never end their sentences with prepositions ever, no matter how wrong they are. (Not that I'm bitter.)

But what's really insulting to the interrobang enthusiasts is how readily people have adopted emojis, the small cartoonish images on your smartphone used to represent emotions in people's otherwise gibberish texts.

"U mad bro?"

Emojis are little cutesy, completely useless graphics of smiley faces, frowny faces, and every variation of human emotion. Whatever happened to the good old days of typing ;-) for a winky face? Or a :-D to show that something was particularly hysterical? (If you don't know what those are, turn your head 90 degrees to the left. Or turn the paper 90 degrees to the right. Whatever, I'm not picky.)

I know emoji are the natural evolution of the text-based emoticons, but I was more than a little surprised ( =8-o ) that they caught on so quickly. Meanwhile, the interrobang is hidden away in our computers and needs a hunting party and three bloodhounds just to track it down.

While I certainly have mellowed out over the years, and no longer rant over the egregious "I seen" or a misused apostrophe (it's not DVD's, people! No apostrophes in plural words), I want to scream about grown adults who punctuate their text messages with tiny cartoon kittycats.

The interrobang, on the other hand, has a proud, if obscure, 52 year tradition. It signaled an important new change in how we communicate with each other, while emoji are wastes of electronic space that make our phones die a little inside.

We need to re-embrace the interrobang to convey proper emotions for the truly important questions of our day, like, seriously, who ate my freaking Cap'n Crunch‽



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
---

Like this post? Leave a comment.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

AYFKMWTS?! FBI Creates 88 Page Twitter Slang Guide

TFBIHCAEEPTSD.

Did you get that? It's an acronym. Web slang. It's how all the teens and young people are texting with their tweeters and Facer-books on their cellular doodads.

It stands for "The FBI has created an eighty-eight page Twitter slang dictionary."

See, you would have known that if you had the FBI's 88 page Twitter slang dictionary.

Eighty-eight pages! Of slang! AYFKMWTS?! (Are you f***ing kidding me with this s***?! That's actually how they spell it in the guide, asterisks and everything. You know, in case the gun-toting agents who catch mobsters and international terrorists get offended by salty language.)

I didn't even know there were 88 Twitter acronyms, let alone enough acronyms to fill 88 pieces of paper.

The FBI needs to be good at Twitter because they're reading everyone's tweets to see if anyone is planning any illegal activities. Because that's what terrorists do — plan their terroristic activities publicly, as if they were…

Understanding 7 Different Types of Humor

One of my pet peeves is when people say they have a "dry" sense of humor, without actually understanding what it actually means.

"Dry" humor is not just any old type of humor. It's not violent, not off-color, not macabre or dark.

Basically, dry humor is that deadpan style of humor. It's the not-very-funny joke your uncle the cost analysis accountant tells. It's Bob Newhart, Steven Wright, or Jason Bateman in Arrested Development.

It is not, for the love of GOD, people, the Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I swear, if anyone says Monty Python is "dry humor" is going to get a smack.

Here are some other types of comedy you may have heard and are just tossing around, willy-nilly.

Farce: Exaggerated comedy. Characters in a farce get themselves in an unlikely or improbable situation that takes a lot of footwork and fast talking to get out of. The play "The Foreigner" is an example of a farce, as are many of the Jeeves &…

What Are They Thinking? The Beloit College Mindset List

Every year at this time, the staff at Beloit College send out their new student Mindset List as a way to make everyone clutch their chest and feel the cold hand of death.

This list was originally created and shared with their faculty each year, so the faculty would understand what some of their own cultural touchstones might mean, or not mean, to the incoming freshmen. They also wanted the freshmen to know it was not cool to refer to '80s music as "Oldies."

This year's incoming Beloit freshmen are typically 18 years old, born in 1999. John F. Kennedy Jr. died that year, as did Stanley Kubrick and Gene Siskel. And so did my hope for a society that sought artistic and intellectual pursuits for the betterment of all humanity. Although it may have actually died when I heard about this year's Emoji Movie.

Before I throw my hands up in despair, here are a few items from the Mindset list for the class of 2021.

They're the last class to be born in the 1900s, and are t…