Written Language

Discussion in 'Writing for Blogs' started by aski, Jan 8, 2019.

  1. aski

    aski New Member

    We moved to America when I was 6. The neighborhood where we lived had more immigrants than Americans. I must have subconsciously picked up a few nuances of the way other cultures communicate as I learned English, though I didn’t notice. Of course, my mother did. “Why do your questions sound like they’re half statements and half complaints?” she would ask, in that typical old world, motherly way.

    I was taken aback. I hadn’t noticed I sounded strange. I just wanted to sound like the other children, like an American. Her question made me think. Did every language have a different intonation for asking questions?

    Eventually, this made me think about another question. In English (and other languages, for that matter), the only emotion we express with punctuation is loud and all the connotations that go with it. Why is that? Don’t we have other nuances we want people to hear?

    As it turns out, someone has thought of this already. In 1962, Martin Speckter, a marketing executive, decided that ads would look cleaner if copywriters could combine the exclamation and question marks to convey incredulity. He held solicited suggestions for a new symbol and got a lot of responses.

    He picked the name “interrobang” as a combination of the Latin “interrogatio” (question) and “bang” (print shop slang for the exclamation mark). The design was pretty much what could be expected from a combo of these two characters, as you can see here: ‽

    So much for creativity, huh? Self-explanatory as it was, the symbol caught on in popular usage for a while. The name appeared in dictionaries, and the key even made it onto some typewriter keyboards of the time. Unfortunately, it faded back into obscurity during the seventies and has rarely been seen since.

    However, this wasn’t the first instance of someone pulling some funny business with the question mark. Just think, we’re not the first generation to have a sense of sarcasm. As early as the 19th century, Alcanter de Brahm, a Frenchman, appears to have felt that his readers were too dull to grasp his point without a little hint. As a result, he revived a piece of punctuation called the irony point, which had been invented by an English printer named Henry Denham a few hundred years before: ⸮

    Unfortunately, the symbol failed to catch on. The only other person known to have used it was another French author, Hervé Bazin. With only two users, the irony point fell into disuse and is almost never seen in print today.

    With users communicating more and more through text such as instant messaging, maybe it’s time to bring these two grammatical oddities out of retirement. Perhaps the time has come for a fan page or Twitter account to promote these obscure but useful symbols. Maybe I’ll even get an award for being a pioneer of communication

Share This Page