Is that irony in your pocket? I couldn’t tell without a punctuation mark.

Think the interrobang is strange? Well, the nonstandard punctuation department is hardly a lonely place. For centuries, humans have been toying with squiggly lines and dots, trying to get them to do more than the jobs of standard punctuation.

One of the interrobang’s odd companions arose near the end of the 1800s when French poet Alcanter de Brahm invented a mark to show when an author intended a sentence to be understood on a different level than is initially read. Thus, the irony mark: ؟


Just for fun, here is how two quotes from one of history’s funniest users of irony, Mark Twain, would look with the irony mark:

– All generalizations are false, including this one؟


– Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry؟

Yet, Twain didn’t use the irony mark. And, despite Alcanter de Brahm’s attempts, the irony mark is still rarely seen. I think the reason comes down to authors’ respect for their readers. One who writes needs to work to express their ideas clearly. After that, the writer must trust the intelligence of their readers and that they will understand irony when they come across it.

But if you subscribe to the Idiocracy view of future and fear the dumbing down of popular culture (How soon until we see this contest: Explain the meaning of life in 140 characters or less.), we might one day need the irony mark.

Interrobang: Is this the coolest name for a punctuation mark ever‽

interrobang symbolIn writing, sometimes it is necessary to express both excitement/surprise and disbelief at the same time. The most accepted method of showing these emotions through punctuation is to use both a question mark (?) and an exclamation point (!).

Did that dragon actually blow bubbles out of his nose?!

You saw Marvin kissing whom outside of study hall?!

However, there is a nonstandard symbol, called the “interrobang,” that melds both the question mark and the exclamation point into a symbol that looks like this: ‽

So, instead, the sentences would look like this:

Did that dragon actually blow bubbles out of his nose‽

You saw Marvin kissing whom outside of study hall‽

The point behind the point
The reason behind the new punctuation mark is to replace the clunky use of two punctuation marks into one elegant symbol, increasing efficiency, style, and general awesomeness.

The name “interrobang” comes from comes from a combination of the words “interrogative point,” which is another name for a question mark, and “bang,” which is printers’ slang for an exclamation point.

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Interrobang origins
In 1962, advertising executive Martin K. Speckter invented the mark, thinking that advertisements would look better if surprised rhetorical questions could be conveyed with a single punctuation mark. He proposed the new mark in a TYPEtalks magazine article, thus launching a fledgling campaign for the interrobang.

For a brief period, it seemed like people might widely adopt the little punctuation mark that could. The year 1966 brought the release of the Americana typeface, which included the interrobang. Two years later, the mark became available on some Remington typewriters.  And during the 1970s, Smith-Corona typewriters also offered the mark.

Using the interrobang
The interrobang is available through Microsoft Word. To use the mark, change your font to Wingdings 2. Then press the key marked with a tilde. (It’s beside the number one key on the top left side of your keyboard.) This will insert an interrobang into your Word document.

Now you will be able to express excitement mixed with surprise and disbelief with one stylish mark. Just imagine yourself typing the following:

Wait, you’re telling me not enough people are in lust with the interrobang‽

Feels good, doesn’t it‽

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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