The 50th Anniversary of the Interrobang?!

June 20, 2017

 

You don't see it on your keyboard, but this little guy has been around for half a century; the interrobang.  It's a beautiful mish-mash of an exclamation point and a question mark for all those times you've written something that your character can't believe they are saying.

 

"Are you telling me, Marsha, that this  baked potato is our love child?!"

 

Usually we simply stack an exclamation point and a question mark together for those moments of incredulity.  But back in 1967, because of ad agency president Martin Speckter, of Martin K. Speckter Associates Inc., the interrobang was born.

 

Or was it?

 

He wanted surprised rhetorical statements to look cleaner with a single punctuation mark instead of two.  It made for a better overall look in the ad.  And, with him heading advertising for the Wall Street Journal, The National Observer, Barron's weekly and the Dow Jones News Service, he had the 'Don Draper' pull to make it happen.

 

Makes sense, right?  

 

It caught on to the point that, a year later, Remington Typewriters included it on their latest release of typewriters.  Smith-Corona followed up in subsequent years by offering customers replacement keys and caps to update their machines as well.  Magazines and newspapers used it, dictionaries included it, too. 

 

So what happened?

 

Some argue that this is the 107th anniversary of the mark, not the 50th, as there is rumor that German books carried the mark back from the 1910 era (though it's impossible to find any example).  Others insist that comics of the 30's and 40's used the symbol in thought balloons of incredulous characters...so it was nothing new.  

 

More than that is the fact that the literary world resisted the new mark.  It had been 300+ years since any punctuation had been invented and accepted and academic scholars argued that we had gotten along without the interrobang just fine.

 

"How can we start over with something new now ?!"  They cried.

 

Years passed from the time the mark was created (or at least from the time the term was coined) to the point where publishers were able to include it in their typesets when printing books.  Daily newspapers were one thing, hardcover books were another.  Practicing to have the majority of writers proficient as to when to use the interrobang and when not to use it hurt popularity as well.  It wasn't to be thrown around lightly, so how often would it really be used, anyway?

 

Wait, don't go!

 

Yet, the interrobang lives on in your Microsoft world under Wingdings 2, along with other forgotten punctuation symbols that are not mainstream.  It is creeping around in your Mac, too.  Some might even look at their cellphone and notice the '?!' symbol in their vast submenu sections of emoticons.

 

It is also now a website for comedy, a post-punk rock band, a name for an improv group and the list goes on.  Mr. Speckter might not have intended for his creation to spawn an amazing form of branding for those looking to stand out in our day and age, but it's happening.

 

Speckter's ad idea, though it didn't catch on in the literary fields fifty years ago, is widely embraced now by all of those who feel their presence and efforts create a 'wow factor' of incredulity in their fans.  Some even argue that it spawned the modern day idea of emoticons to help express our sentences better. 

 

Would you agree?  Do you have a character that needs this in their dialogue?  Or has the interrobang seen its day? 

 

 

Please reload

Featured Posts

10 Authors Who Dreamed Up Their Book Ideas

July 1, 2019

1/10
Please reload

Recent Posts
Please reload