I consider myself pretty well-versed in the latest goings-on in the writing world, so it came as quite a revelation to hear of a new (to me, at least) punctuation mark called the interrobang. This particular mark blends the question mark and exclamation point (‽) into an amalgamation of questioning surprise, a seasoning of shock sprinkled over the lilt you hear in a person’s voice when a question is asked. Your Galaxy Note 20 did what?!
No matter if this is your first time hearing about this blended punctuation mark or if you’ve been hip to the interro-slang for a while, learn why using the interrobang can drag your writing through the mud.
What Is an Interrobang?
Before slapping you on the hand for using the interrobang, let’s hit the rewind button to see when this particular punctuation seed was first planted. It was in 1962 that advertising agency head Martin K. Speckter devised a way for ad copywriters to utilize a single mark for their bewildered rhetorical questions. Like many parents, Speckter had a difficult time coming up with a name for his hybrid baby, with options ranging from “exclarotive” and “exclamaquest” to “QuizDig.” The ad head had a “eureka!” moment when interrobang staked its claim.
So what does interrobang mean? To get specific, “interrobang” is a portmanteau of the Latin word interrogatio, which means either “cross-examination” or “rhetorical question,” and bang, which is used in the printing profession as another word for the exclamation mark. Sounds almost like a spell Harry Potter would sling, right?
Interro-Bang Bang, You Shot Yourself Down
Like with some grammar myths, the interrobang comes in a couple of different forms. There’s the classic yet rarely used spliced version, ‽, as well as the more common and informal version in which the punctuation marks stand side-by-side, ?! In either case, both should be avoided to make your writing robust and easily understood.
One of the biggest risks with using the interrobang is that it might make your reader think even you aren’t sure what you’re trying to say. Rather than shroud your writing in a thick haze of shocked confusion, use an alternative. Next, we’ll look at a few examples of using the interrobang and how to reshuffle the deck to improve your writing luck.
Suitable Interrobang Substitutes
Much like how it’s best to use synonyms in your writing, the same is true of using punctuation marks other than the interrobang. One option is to decide which emotion you want to convey the most, confusion or amazement, and punctuate your sentence accordingly. Trust that the reader is smart enough to hear the anger or shock in your question, such as when you ask who ate the last piece of sweet potato pie that you’ve been hankering for since breakfast.
No: Who ate the last piece of sweet potato pie?!
Yes: Who ate the last piece of sweet potato pie?
If it’s not readily apparent that you’re exclaiming a question, add an extra sentence that makes it clear.
Who ate the last piece of sweet potato pie? I’ve been waiting to eat some since I finished breakfast!
Here’s another example of unspooling your sentence into two and deciding which emotion you want to convey with the exclamation mark.
No: Did you forget to pay the rent again?!
Yes: Did you forget to pay the rent? That’s the third month in a row!
The Interrobang Discussion Continues
Have you used the interrobang in your writing? Maybe you have additional substitutions to add. Either way, let’s see what you’ve got in the comment section below.