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Which Punctuation Mark Expresses Surprise and Disbelief?

By Kevin Hellyer
Updated May 16, 2024
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It’s not every day that someone invents a new form of punctuation. You have to give Martin K. Speckter props for trying. As an advertising executive in the early 1960s, Speckter found himself somewhere between excitement and disbelief, or perhaps both simultaneously. A question mark or an exclamation point just wouldn’t express what he wanted to convey in his writing. So he blended the two symbols and called the result the "interrobang."

Surprised you haven't come across this before? While the idea gained some initial traction, and typographers created a mish-mash symbol for some fonts – yes, one punctuation mark overlaid on the other, sharing the dot at the bottom – the interrobang (‽) has pretty much disappeared from view. These days, you're more likely to see the sentiment behind the interrobang expressed as two separate punctuation marks, usually "?!" or "!?".

Say what?!?

  • Speckter came up with the term by using “interro-” from the word “interrogative,” and “bang,” which is typesetting jargon for an exclamation point (sometimes called a “banger.”)

  • Speckter died in 1988, long before his creation was formally put to rest. While the interrobang is a rare occurrence today, it has shown up in logos for the State Library of New South Wales and Punctuate! Theatre in Alberta, Canada.

  • You could lump the interrobang in with glyphs, those typographic flourishes that have found more acceptance in the digital age, from stylized slashes and hashtags to the manicule (from the Latin maniculum, or “little hand”), which is used today to provide visual direction to readers. (Interestingly, it was first used in 1086 and was common in the 14th century.)

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