Why Isn’t This Official Punctuation?

A picture of an interrobang     The Interrobang:

It’s a piece of unconventional punctuation created by Martin Speckter in 1962.  As ad advertising executive, his motives were less than pure, and his proposed usage not based in what we know about the rules of grammar and punctuation.

However, that is not to say that Mr. Speckter’s child has no place in the realm of official punctuation.  Over the decades, the interrobang became used in many different ways, including the way that it seems to suggest.  To end a quesclamation.  On a side note, quesclamation is not as ubiquitous in slang as it deserves to be, but that’s a whole different article.  To claim that we shouldn’t use the interrobang because of who thought of it first and why is like saying nobody should eat vegetables because Hitler was a vegetarian.  Seriously, put down that carrot, you Nazi!

I’ve seen dissent of this idea all over the internet.  The most common of which is people wondering why we can’t just use both the exclamation point and the question mark consecutively.  Well, that’s a violation of the rules of grammar.  You are not to use redundant punctuation.

"But, Ceej" you cry, "haven't I seen you do that?"

First of all, nice use of the interrobang, my hypothetical dissident.  You’re learning already.    Second, I’m sorry I had to post this as a picture.  It seems all my interrobangs are turning into question marks when I preview this article, which is another reason it needs to enter official punctuation.  So, I can be sure you’ll see them when I use them.  Third, yes.  Yes, I have.  However, it’s not the only time I’ve violated the rules of grammar.  There are many other things I’ve done wrong.  Sentence fragments.  Sometimes I use run-on sentences and those make you forget what my original point was before they’re over which is why I should never do that but sometimes I do anyway for whatever reason or another such as its ironic usage here.   Sometimes I use CAPITAL LETTERS for emphasis instead of italics.  Once I posted an article with a misplaced modifier away on holiday.  From time to time, my elipses only have two periods..

Many times I have a reason for these violations.  For example, the reason this time was irony.  And, when I use redundant punctuation, it’s either for humour or because the interrobang is not official punctuation.  The interrobang allows you to exclaim your questions without using redundant punctuation, thus removing the rule in grammar that says, “You must violate the rules of grammar.”  Don’t you agree?  DON'T YOU?

There was one very powerful grammar nazi insisting that there is no such thing as an exclamatory question.  He never provided any evidence, and nobody agreed with him, so he could have just been a troll, but it seemed to me he felt very strongly, so I’ll address his concerns.

He said that the reason we have two marks is to distinguish between exclamations and questions, because they have the same wording.  But, perhaps, I don’t do his words justice.  Let me quote him verbatim.

I’m afraid there is simply no argument to be made for the interrobang being grammatically useful, because grammar distinguishes a question from an exclamation and assigns a specific, individual punctuation mark to each. There is no ambiguous case in which one cannot determine whether something is a question or an exclamation. Most things that are concluded ?! are in fact questions, and should be concluded ?.

So what does ?! represent? What indeed! It might be the raised eyebrows when we question something we can scarcely believe. Or it might be the tone of indignation when we question what seems to us wrong. But neither of these are grammatical. They belong to a level of textual articulation above the grammatical. So, yes, one can say that the interrobang might be ungrammatically useful, or even extra-grammatically useful. But this is an argument against the notion of the interrobang as a new (and proudly American) punctuation mark. It may look like a punctuation mark, it may have hijacked two punctuation marks, but it functions as something other than and beyond a punctuation mark.

The interrobang itself is a symptom of ungrammatical usage of the exclamation mark, especially beloved of ad-men like Martin Speckter, to express loudness. You know: loudness! Since, according to this usage, the exclamation mark can be added to any statement, regardless of whether it is grammatically an exclamation or not, it is assumed that it can be added to what is grammatically a question. Correct use of the exclamation mark is one of the least taught aspects of English grammar, even more poorly understood by most people than the semi-colon and apostrophe.

Okay.  So, he’s saying that, by definition, there is no question that is an exclamation because loudness doesn’t equal exclamatory and presumably neither does passion.  So, what does equal exclamatory?  He’s saying that exclamatory is grammatical in nature rather than  in how the words are expressed.  If I give him that, then we should end every sentence in a period.  Period.  The grammar will take care of what type of sentence it is.

Well, I think he has a half-arsed answer to that.

Grammar does not need an exclamation mark to distinguish a ‘plain statement from an exclaimed statement’; it uses an exclamation mark to clearly distinguish an exclamation from a question…

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t he just contradict himself?  Well, in the interest of your sanity, I’m going to leave this guy  behind, but if you want to see the full context, you can visit the comments of the article in question.

The third concern, which you can also read about in the comments of that same article, is that it’s a typographer’s nightmare.  It seems to be very difficult to make interrobangs that don’t turn into ink blotches at low font sizes.  But, not impossible, as many fonts have that taken care of.  What they’re saying is, “We don’t want it to catch on because it’s too hard and we’re lazy.”

But, aside from the grammatical answers for it and the answers to the objections, there is only one reason you need to insert the interrobang into standard punctuation.  It’s just awesome!  And that’s really all you need.

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