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On an episode of Christmas University Challenge 2018, a few questions came up on the subject of punctuation. Naturally, my ears pricked up.
What is an ‘interrobang’? I’d never heard of this before. An online investigation led to an explanation in The Economist (2014) which said it refers to the use of a question mark in conjunction with an exclamation mark in an attempt to express excitement or disbelief.
The interrobang was invented in 1962 by Martin K. Speckter, a journalist turned advertising executive, who disliked the ugliness of using multiple punctuation marks at the end of a sentence. An example he gave was the advertising copy “What? A Refrigerator That Makes Its Own Ice Cubes?!”, which also gives us a little insight into what was considered high technology in the 1960s. The two marks – question and exclamation – were conjoined to make this odd-looking squiggle, and although more than 50 years old, it has never quite caught on.
A website called 99percentinvisible.org gave up even more information: Speckter requested proposals for alternate names, including “emphaquest,” “interropoint” and “exclarogative.” But he stuck with the original name —“interro” for interrogate, and “bang” which is slang for exclamation point. In 1966, a company called the American Type Founders that created some of the most widely used typefaces of the 20th century unveiled a new typeface called Americana that included an interrobang, but the foundry was in decline, and Americana was the last type typeface they ever cut. Now, if it is included in a font, it’s accessible only within a nested series of menus and selections.