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Linguistics

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What is an Interrobang?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated: May 23, 2024

An interrobang is a rarely used symbol in English typography that combines the forms of the exclamation point and the question mark. It looks essentially like an exclamation point with a question mark growing out from about the midpoint of the straight line, with both marks sharing the same point and the hook of the upper curve on the question mark just over-reaching the top of the exclamation point. The name interrobang is derived from the Latin interrogatio, which is a type of interrogative question, and the slang term bang, used by printers and typographers to refer to the exclamation point. Other names that were initially proposed included the rhet and the exclarotive.

An interrobang is meant to replace the usage in writing of an exclamation point and a question mark right next to each other, such as in the sentence, “She said what?!” This sort of formation, and therefore the use of the interrobang, is usually meant either to express disbelief or to convey a sense of excitement about the question being asked. The combination of a question mark and an exclamation point to terminate a sentence has been used for some time in English, not only in informal writing, but also in semi-formal situations such as news headlines. Formally, of course, it is usually considered inappropriate to use more than one terminating mark at the end of a sentence, and so the interrobang has no real place in formal writing.

The interrobang was conceived of by an American advertiser in the 1960s, Martin Speckter, who thought the aesthetic of one typographic symbol would be better than two. The excited or surprised question has often been used in advertising, but even after its creation, the interrobang was rarely used to replace the more common “?!” string.

Despite some early success and adoption, such as its inclusion on a typewriter in the late 1960s, the interrobang never caught on with the world at large. Typographical symbols are rarely adopted, so its failure to become a standard symbol is not a surprise. The fact that the combination it represents is considered by most people to be a poor stylistic construction no doubt also played heavily into its failure. It is, however, not entirely dead; many new font faces include an interrobang; the Unicode system lists it as U+203D, and it can be expressed in HTML as well, using the code ‽, rendering: ‽

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Discussion Comments
By Izzy78 — On Sep 18, 2011

@stl156 - Good observation. I'll have to be on the lookout for the interrobang on clothing and such.

Even though we may be using it more, I still can't see it picking up steam. The only way is if it got added to the computer keyboard, and that isn't likely.

By stl156 — On Sep 18, 2011

Even though the interrobang never caught on as a real punctuation mark, I have seen it turning into a fashion fad.

It has been very recently, but I have seen a couple people who have had a stylized interrobang on a necklace and wristband. I don't know if it is the intended effect, but it sort of looks like a superhero emblem.

I think maybe it is becoming more popular because using the ?! expression in writing is becoming more common. Now that we have blog posts and comment sections on every website, people can use the question mark and exclamation point ending more often. I have even ?! used in a couple of novels.

By kentuckycat — On Sep 17, 2011

What an interesting name for a punctuation mark. I never knew that it even existed. Just from the symbol that is show above, it is kind of hard to tell what exactly it is, so I can see how it never really caught on. It looks more like a P than anything to me.

How do you get an interrobang symbol to show up on your computer? The article mentions the codes, but I have never understood how to use those. Are there any other odd punctuation symbols that exist that most people don't know about?

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