Letters on Literary Devices 16: The Exclamatory Question?!?

To the conventions of punctuation:

Although I have a great respect for convention, especially when related to punctuation marks, I’ve recently become aware of a certain informal mark known as the “interrobang,” which has completely opened my eyes to the potential pitfalls of relying blindly on writing customs.  For anyone else, who like me, has been living in ignorance of this communicative gem, allow me a short explanation.

Here it goes: The interrobang is a punctuation mark that most people already use. If you’ve ever closed a text message with WTF?! or WTF?!? or WTF!?! or if you were really excited WTF!?!?!?!?!?! then you’ve used an interrobang. Any combination of question marks and exclamation points is an interrobang… well sort of.

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You see, about fifty years ago, one of the great innovators of punctuation, Martin K. Speckter, invented a mark that concisely combined the question mark with the exclamation point. Well, at least that’s what I initially read on Wikipedia. And, like always, after some additional research clicking the links on the bottom of the Wikipedia page, I found out that the public contributors got it right, more or less.

Check this article I found on it: The Interrobang is Back, or if you’re a fellow millennial and would prefer a hilarious youtube video about it, click this link: What the Heck is the interrobang

For those of you who didn’t check out the video, here’s the mark he invented:

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I know. It looks awesome. An exclamation point superimposed on a question mark. Simple but awesome. The problem is that it never caught on. Just look down at your computer keyboard or keyboard on your phone: Why no interrobang?!? WTF!?!

And that’s the problem. If we don’t have it on our keyboards, how can we use it?!?

But is it really a problem? The sober people in the audience are probably wondering this: do we really need to use it? (Notice that sober people don’t use exclamation points)

My answer to that question is an unreserved YES! (I DO use exclamation points) Currently, there is no set convention for showing an excited question. Everyone does it differently, and THAT goes against the spirit of punctuation.

Look, as authors and writers we employ a huge set of literary and conventional tools to communicate with our audiences. And punctuation, although underrated, is one of the most important. It’s like the body language of writing. You know, like how body language says more than words. Its the same with punctuation. So no, it doesn’t get the same glory as “what’s said,” but it serves the important communicative role of “how its said.” And anyone who’s gotten in a fight with a girlfriend or mother or boyfriend or teenage boy selling movie tickets, knows that it isn’t the “what’s said” that matters. No, its the “how it’s said” that you’re probably fighting over.

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I’d go so far as to say that punctuation, when used by an author writing fiction, could be considered a literary device. Yea. I said it. I think that fiction writers can do a lot with punctuation alone. And I think it would be foolish and closed-minded to limit ourselves to the punctuation marks handed down by our great-great-grand parents. Why not use something new, especially if that “something new” saves us a key stroke and adds clarity.

Think about it: Someone invented the period. Someone invented the quotation mark. Someone invented the colon (The punctuation mark, that is. The other one can be attributed to evolution or God or whatever or whoever you’d prefer to thank). So, punctuation isn’t inherent. It evolves over time meaning that as a convention, punctuation can change.

Unfortunately, no one can change convention alone. And for this to work, for us writers to bring the interrobang out of the depths of obscure history and into the collective understanding of English readers the world over, we all need to start using it. We all need to use the interrobang. And I know. It won’t be easy. There is no key for the interrobang, but it does exist as a symbol on Microsoft Word, and I heard that its possible to turn that symbol into a “hot key”. I have no idea what that means, but I do know that there’s hope. And one day. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not next week. Maybe not next year or in my lifetime. But maybe, just maybe, my children’s children will have keyboards with an interrobang key. And no, it might not be next to the letter J or F or any of the other keys in the middle of the keyboard. But it will be there. Maybe next to the O so they can reach it with their future pinky’s while holding shift.

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I’m talkin’ small steps people. I don’t know about you, but I know the next time I write something and feel a need for an excited question, I won’t simply insert a question mark and exclamation point. No, next time, I’ll use the interrobang. Because–well, why the f@#k not‽

 

Sincerely,

Eric James-Olson

 

If you liked this, help out the interrobang cause by sharing it with everyone you know. Use the button below to Tweet it, Like it, Reblog it, or use whatever other social media you’re into. And if your interested, here’s the link to my books: BOOKS. As always, thanks for reading and have a nice day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Eric James-Olson

Eric James-Olson writes novels and short stories. Currently, he's working on a coming-of-age novel set in the Panhandle of West-Virginia. Check out the "Novels by Eric James-Olson" tab above for the titles of his other books. In addition to writing, James-Olson is a high school English teacher, an amateur woodworker, and an outdoor enthusiast. He lives with his wife and daughter in West Virginia. View all posts by Eric James-Olson

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