27 November 2009

Extreme methods of interrogation

This post is dedicated to my brother-in-law. He laid down the grammar gauntlet, and who am I to deny him an answer? The challenge:

"What is the word and symbol for a ?!. Apparently a single punctuation mark was once created for the two. Anyway I looked on wiki and didn't see the answer. I did find this quote though;
Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.
F. Scott Fitzgerald"
My reply:

"With regards to your punctuation query, as far as I know, there is no such thing in proper usage, although an exclamation mark is often used after a question mark in informal writing such as letters, emails, websites etc (but obviously these are full of spelling mistakes and bad grammar, so they're hardly going to be held up as examples of good writing) and in cartoon strips and graphic novels (where the rules are different - it's fantasy!). For the purpose of describing the phenomenon in this usage, some bright spark (an enterprising advertising bod, no less) came up with the name 'interrobang' or 'interabang' - there's more at this Wikipedia link (although we all know not to believe everything we read on Wikipedia, so who knows). If you want to know more about ligatures, see this Words & Fixtures post.

"It is generally considered bad form to use punctuation marks together, so most people (well, writers and editors, anyway) inwardly groan when they see, for example, reams of exclamation marks together, which happens a lot these days in emails and texts. An exclamation mark is supposed to create enough impact on its on, and it should be used sparingly otherwise the impact is lost. You may notice the general lack of exclamation marks in the broadsheets while tabloids, however, love them. Go figure.

"An exclamation mark following a question mark is unnecessary and is merely emphasising that you'd noticed something or find something hilarious and are pointing it out, so it's a bit like showing off. As The Great Gatsby author you quote so eloquently details, it's kind of akin to laughing at your own jokes.

"Hope this helps. Regards etc..."
So there you have it. Interrobang: the upstart punctuation superhero on the block. Or possibly a super-strength drain unblocker with a crap sense of humour. Any more random grammar queries, dear reader, please feel free to get in touch via the usual communication channels.

(By weird coincidence, while writing this, the interrobang symbol appeared in my Twitter feed after one of my peeps used the new Retweet facility to share something by @FakeAPStylebook, who uses the mark as their avatar and seems to be a grammar geek. We like.)

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