It allows you to add spark to a written question, make it clear that your question is rhetorical, or express surprise, skepticism, or irony.
Its name is a portmanteau of interrogate and bang. (Bang is what typesetters used to call an exclamation mark.)
Most of the time, the context or phrasing of a question is enough to understand its intent:If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
It’s clear that this question is rhetorical.
But, when context is limited — say, in an advertisement or a social media post — it can be useful to use an interrobang for clarity.
For example, the following question has different meanings based on which type of punctuation is used. The first is literal, while the second is rhetorical.
What are you doing?
What are you doing‽
The interrobang was invented by Martin Speckter, a classic New York adman with a passion for typography.
He disliked the growing trend of using “!?” in advertising copy. Being an adman and the editor of a typography magazine, he found himself in a unique position to fix the problem — and so the interrobang was born.
Here’s an example that Speckter used himself:What? A refrigerator that makes its own ice cubes‽
Speckter proposed his invention to his readers, and it was a hit. They offered up some fun alternative names, like quizding, rhet, exclamaquest, emphaquest, and exclarogative, but Speckter’s original name stuck.
Speckter’s readers were also asked to volunteer designs. But in the end, the interrobang designed itself. Superimposing “!” and “?” just made sense.
The simple design of the interrobang is probably why it’s managed to persist while other attempts at inventing punctuation have been forgotten.
The interrobang doesn’t require any new knowledge. When you see one for the first time, its meaning is instantly clear.
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