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Friday, November 12, 2010

Marks for Snarks...

Image courtesy of 
What a great idea‽  

What’s that?  It’s the nonstandard punctuation mark that combines a question mark (aka interrogative point) and an exclamation mark (or point, aka bang).  The glyph to the left is a called an interrobang, an interbang, or an quesclamation mark.  A sentence with an interrobang at the end can signify disbelief, excitement, or a rhetorical question.

In Palatino
Linotype font
Martin K. Speckter, head of an advertising agency, invented the interrobang in 1962.  He thought it would be a good way to end a rhetorical question.  He published an article in TYPEtalks magazine and asked readers for input as to what to call this new mark.  Readers also sent in their renditions of it.  In 1966, the Americana typeface was introduced and it included the interrobang character.

Comic books and some advertisements used multiple marks for decades before the interrobang was invented. The interrobang was created because the use of a question mark and an exclamation mark together was considered unsightly and cumbersome.  Even for informal writing some language connoisseurs consider multiple marks poor style, and it is a definite no-no for formal writing.

Use of the interrobang was popular in the 60s, and the word even appeared in some dictionaries.  But it turned out to be a fad.  It hasn’t disappeared entirely, and can be found in Wingdings sets.  It would probably be used more if it were on all keyboards and could easily be accessed.  There are groups and people who are advocating its use, such as Stephen Coles and Interrobang-MKS.

Rhetorical questions can also use a bracketed question mark -  "No, kidding(?)" - but that seems awkward and ungainy.  Interrobangs just make sense.

Interrobangs are also not just for English speakers.  Writers of Spanish, Galician and Asturian can use an inverted one, called a gnaborretni, or interrobang upside-down and backwards - 

Here are some different fonts and a different graphic design of the interrobang:

Logo for this library in Sydney, Australia

Image courtesy of the FontFeed

There is a similar mark used to convey irony or sarcasm.  The oldest of these was invented by Henry Denham in the 1580s.  It is the percontation point, aka the ironicon, basically a backwards question mark.  "Yeah, right⸮"

The percontation point is the same as the irony mark, used when a statement has meaning on another level.  The irony mark was proposed by Alcanter de Brahm, a French poet aka Marcel Bernhardt, in the late 19th century (Frenchpoint d’ironie).  A French author, Hervé Bazin, used the irony mark along with other marks he devised: 

doubt point (Point de doute.svg),    certitude point (Point de certitude.svg),    acclamation point (Point d'acclamation.svg), 
authority point (Point d'autorité.svg),    indignation point (Point d'indignation.svg),    and love point (Point d'amour.svg). 

Bazin used these in his book Plumons l’Oiseau ("Pluck the Bird", 1966).

An ironic or sarcastic sentence could also be expressed with a bracketed exclamation point - 
"No, kidding(!)" - which could be more simply put by using the irony mark.  There have been other ways to indicate sarcasm, because apparently there are a plethora of sarcastic writers.  Using an exclamation point in brackets is one (!).  The tilde in quotation marks has been used:  "~". 
Snark Mark courtesy
of The Snark

My favorite "ironic" punctuation mark is the snark mark.  Developed by typophile Choz Cunningham,  and inspired by de Brahm and Bazin.  It is made by placing a tilde over a period, or thus:   ".~".  It looks like a sideways exclamation point, period first.

However there is a different kind of snark mark that has its own page on Facebook.  It uses the ^ character at the end of a sarcastic sentence just before the period.  No face forms allow, i.e., ^_^.  You are allowed to use multiple marks to express extreme sarcasm.
So who knew that sarcasm rated all these punctuation marks?  All of the punctuation marks above communicate attitude and can say almost as much as the sentence they end.  I could say something, if I was feeling disbelieving, excited, rhetorical, or snarky.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thank you so much. While the interrobang is a mighty fine piece of punctuation, I can see myself having frequent recourse to the snark mark.

  3. Yes, that's my favorite as well. Too bad font sets don't come with them automatically!

  4. I must say, I have never used "^_^" sarcastically, nor has anyone who has used it with me ever meant sarcasm. Usually it is to signify something cutesy, or perhaps to conjure a feeling of mischievous fake-innocence. But maybe that's just me.

  5. I've also seen it used as "cutesy", but mostly (on Facebook, especially) as sarcastic.