Aug 8, 2007

The Interrobang

Okay, so you’re familiar with the umlaut, the ellipsis, the ampersand and the tilda, but you’re still craving more knowledge about strange, rarely used typographical marks. Well my friend, you’ve come to the right place.

The interrobang is a rarely used punctuation mark intended to combine the functions of a question mark and an exclamation mark. The name interrobang comes from interro - from interrogative - and bang - printers’ slang for “exclamation point”. The result is an economical way to say “He did what?!?!?!” without all of those extra punctuation marks.

**HISTORY ALERT** (Those of you who bore easily may want to stop reading now.)

American Martin K. Speckter concocted the interrobang in 1962. As the head of an advertising agency, Speckter believed that advertisements would look better if advertising copywriters conveyed surprised queries using a single mark. He proposed the concept of a single punctuation mark in an article in the magazine TYPEtalks. Speckter solicited possible names for the new character from readers. Contenders included rhet, exclarotive, and exclamaquest, but he settled on interrobang.

In the 60s and 70s, the mark appeard in new typefaces, and was available on some typewrites. The word itself appeared in dictionaries and was featured in magazine and newspaper articles. However, the interrobang failed to amount to much more than a fad. It is still available in Microsoft’s Wingdings 2 character set, and was accepted into Unicode. You can find it in Lucida Sans Unicode and Arial Unicode MS, among others.

It can be used in HTML documents with , and some word processors (including MS Word) will display the symbol under ALT+8253 when working with a font that supports the interrobang.
More blogs on strange typographical marks/names coming soon! Stay tuned for the solidus, the virgule, the interpunct, the pillcrow, the asterism and guillemets. I know you can hardly contain your excitement!

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