The Interrobang: An OpEd

Plantin-Interrobang-Darabzine

The interrobang is an interesting typographical creation—an awkward marriage of both exclamation and question. We often incorporate it into our daily communications without realizing. Sometimes known as the interabang, it is exhibited in written language as an expression of sudden emotion, alongside an inquisitiveness that remains also unanticipated. We see this a “?!”, or a “!?”. The combination of these two punctuation marks is not uncommon, especially in fiction or script writing. But more commonly, as we have come to grow and love our sixth appendage, that is our smartphone, we have become inundated with trigger-happy exchanges of simultaneous curiosity and excitement.

Yet as a glyph, the interrobang remains a peculiar, used-less-often-hybrid. Its inception harks back to the 1960s. Drawn from the Latin for “rhetorical question”, interrogatio, it was Martin K. Speckter, head of a New York advertising agency, who believed that copy would appear more prominent should a symbol convey the rhetorical questions advertisements posed to the consumer. And so the interrobang glyph was born. Sadly, the interrobang did not witness the durable popularity of other symbols and glyphs, its lifespan never extended beyond the 1960s. Today, use of “?!”, or “!?”, even “!”, in advertising copy has become a thing of the past. Advertisers suspect that this is mostly due to the fact that we have become a culture that’s desensitized to exclamation. Frankly, everything these days seems to allude to strong feelings or loudness.

From a graphical or visual standpoint, the interrobang is ungainly. It is awkward. It lacks the grace and poise of other ligatures. It often looks like a misprint, or a glitch in the system. Nonetheless, the interrobang is noteworthy and while it’s durability is questionable, it is a praiseworthy experiment that remains a testament to typographic endeavor and design thinking.

© 2013 interrobang by Faris Habayeb
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