The Interrobang, the Marketer’s Punctuation Mark

In the 1960s a new punctuation mark was invented to express the feeling between excitement and confusion. The “interrobang” almost became standard.

In the 1960s, an advertising executive was looking for a new way to express being both excited and quizzical at the same time. After he published his proposal and solicited ideas for its name, the interrobang was born. A fusion of the question mark and exclamation point (! + ? = ?), the interrobang was popular enough to be included in some typesetting fonts and even a few typewriters, but fell out of favor before it became a standard. Half a century later, there are still occasionally efforts made to give momentum to this peculiar, yet useful, punctuation mark.

Evolution of a Punctuation Mark

Martin K. Speckter, president of Martin K. Speckter Associates Incorporated, proposed the new punctuation mark in 1962, in an article for TYPEtalks magazine. He cultivated interest in the idea by requesting suggestions for the new mark’s name before settling on a portmanteau of the Latin word for question and the printer’s slang for exclamation point.

Marketer Punctuation Mark

Typewriters at the time did not have a “bang” (as printers called exclamation points) on the keyboard, and typists created them by typing an apostrophe, backing up a space, and typing a period in the same spot. The new interrobang could be just as easily typed using an apostrophe and a question mark, so Mr. Speckter’s idea did not need buy-in from typewriter manufacturers to gain popularity. However, by the late 60s it was possible to special-order a typewriter with an interrobang key. In 1966, the Americana font was released with the new figure included for printing.

Declining Interrobang Popularity

Speckter’s marketing savvy generated interest in the interrobang, both by introducing it in an article and by inviting readers to help name it. It was not enough to make the mark a standard part of English punctuation, though, and it fell out of fashion by the mid-1970s. A word that had briefly made it into dictionaries became all but forgotten. Typography blogger Stephen Coles has speculated that it failed because the design, while convenient to typewriters of the day, was inelegant. “The smashing of straight and curved vertical strokes atop each other is hardly a graceful combination,” Coles said, suggesting that the concept “were drawn more thoughtfully” without the elements overlapping would be more attractive, and more readable in small print.

Modern Interest in Interrobangs

The wholesale conversion of keyboarding from typewriters to computers makes the interrobang a more accessible punctuation mark again. It’s possible to generate one directly in HTML with the code ? or from the “special characters” or “font” menu of most word processors. Its availability has led to some renewed interest in its use by bloggers such as Coleman, who believes that National Punctuation Day (celebrated September 24) is the ideal time to encourage its use.