I am sure we have all expressed our response to outrageous events in a mix of shock and questioning. You will have expressed rhetorical disbelief—the Wallabies won four straight games; we have another NSW Premier; the Liberal Party has a climate policy; and so on. The English language has a punctuation mark to accompany this!? Meet the interrobang … ‽

What is the interrobang?

The interrobang is a question mark superimposed on an exclamation point. It is therefore an unconventional punctuation mark used at the end of a sentence to convey a simultaneous exclamation and question.

The interrobang was “invented” by Martin K. Speckter in 1962. Speckter was working in advertising for many big companies, such as the Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal. He realised that in many ads, they asked exclamatory questions but there was so punctuation symbol to use.

Speckter wrote an article in TYPEtalks magazine: “Making a New Point, Or How About That …” in March 1962 in which he proposed the “interrobang”. It was the first new mark in the English language in 300 years.

Alternative names proposed for it have included the exclamaquest, QuizDing, and Exclarotive. However, Speckter chose the name ‘Interrobang’ in reference to the punctuation marks that inspired it, “intero” for interrogate and “bang”. Bang, you may not know was the type-setter’s name for the exclamation mark.

What is a bang?

US secretarial dictation and typesetting manuals in the 1950s referred to the exclamation mark as a “bang”. Speculation that it might come from comic books that used “!” in dialogue balloons to represent the sound of guns being fired is most attractive. Certainly bang with its one syllable is quicker to say during dictation, than the five syllables of “exclamation mark”.

Is it time to bring back the interrobang?

The interrobang ‽ is not as well-known as it once was. However, it is still widely loved by language enthusiasts. For that reason, the State Library of NSW uses it as its logo. One event asked “How does the world end. With an interrobang or a whimper‽”

Peter Robinson, an English literature professor at Reading University called for a grand comeback of the interrobang in 2013, saying:

“… with its balance of excitement and outrage, it is perfect for the fast-moving, shockaholic nature of social media”.

Is it time to bring back the interrobang?