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Interrobang (99percentinvisible.org)
140 points by sndean 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 119 comments

I don't have a strong opinion on the interrobang either way, but let's imagine we wanted to start a campaign for it to go mainstream.

The most important thing that could happen would be for a popular auto-correct tool to start substituting it for '?!' and '!?'. MS Word would be ideal.

People would start to get familiar with it when reading other's works. And when authoring, people tend to treat auto-correct like an authority and learn from it. I suspect something similar happened with the ellipsis character in place of three periods.

I have a hunch it would catch on easier in the non-English markets, which may be slightly more accustomed to the inconvenience of using glyphs that aren't always available on every keyboard.

Next, it needs to be included in mobile keyboards. I don't know about iOS, but I can't find it in Gboard for Android.

We could start logging requests and submitting pull requests along those lines.

Now we may not want a viral event. No hashtag campaigns, lest we awaken a louder dissenting crowd. I think the Trojan Horse is a better strategy at first.

I have a different proposal - ligatures.

I don't know if you've ever played with a font like FiraCode, but it gives you both fancy typographical symbols and compatibility with existing compilers by defining purely-visual translations between certain sequences of characters and purpose-built glyphs. So for example '!=' is rendered as '≠', '=>' as '⇒', '>=' as '≥', etc.

See https://github.com/tonsky/FiraCode. They do go a bit overboard, IMO.

Oh, they do. Why should www turn into a ligature?

Isn't the whole point of a ligature to visually change a suboptimal representation of something to what it's supposed to represent? E.g. changing != to ≠ visually while the compiler still sees !=?

www isn't representing anything so a ligature doesn't make sense. Same with the comment ligatures, the << and <<< comparisons (shouldn't <> change to ≠?). Even the thinner escape \, which I understand the reasoning for, is probably overkill.

Traditionally ligatures have been about abbreviation or aesthetics, not weird approximations in character sets: see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typographic_ligature

E.g. when I enable ligatures in Pillars of Eternity, it just makes all the prose look gorgeous.

Microsoft word‽ Surly this campaign would be more successful if it started with autocorrect on phones.

That's a good point! But wouldn't we need better mobile keyboard support before that happens?

The default keyboard on my Sony Xperia… something can already type a fair number of characters, but I don't think most people discover them.

These are all accessed by holding down keys on the number/punctuation view: ¢ ¯ — – ≈ ≠ ± ‡ † ‰ ÷ × « » ½ ¼ ⅛ ⅓ ⅔ ¾ ⅜ ² ³ ⁴ ⅝ ⁿ ⅞ • … ¿ ¡

They're not very discoverable like that.

Some are repeated, but these ones are on the second page of punctuation: § ¶ ° ¬ ~ © ® | ¦

I'm missing ‽ and a subscript 2 so I can write CO2 properly.

You need "‽" to write CO2 properly‽


I think you nailed it. More than half of the em dashes and en dashes I type are a result of Word correcting a pair of hyphens in a row. I write "Foo--but not bar" and it renders “Foo—but not bar”. There are no curly quotes on my keyboard either, but any decently professional typesetting uses them of course.

do you really want an em-dash there? they are typically used in sentences to introduce a strong break in a parethetical clause, but without using parentheses :)

Is this the grammar equivalent of people misreading the contrived code snippet—often shortened to focus the reader on the concept being discussed (like on StackOverflow)—for the real thing?

There, nested both types. I think that works.

> substituting it for '?!' and '!?'

But these aren't the same!?

I think the interrobang or its alikes have different functions in written languages and spoken languages. In written languages they all are just a grab bag of mixed-mode reactions including surprise or rhetorical questions. In spoken languages (or corresponding transcripts), I found a distinction between !? and ?! is valuable because there is temporality not usually represented in written languages, and would avoid ‽ for the same reason. Likewise I argue that the number of dots in ellipses is meaningless in written languages (henceforth "standardized" to three dots) but can be actually meaningful in spoken languages.

How do you speak a 4-dotted ellipsis differently to a 3-dotted one?!

It's ...... longer.

One of the four dots ended your previous sentence before you begin speaking again.

On the dvorak keyboard, if you compose ? and !, it replaced by ⸘, whereas ! and ? will give ‽

⸘Porque no los dos‽

> but let's imagine we wanted to start a campaign for it to go mainstream.

I believe Reddit has tried it for years. Maybe they should have focused on auto correct.

The main problem of using it on reddit is that every reply to your comment will be "oh my god the interrobang!!!", "upvoted for interrobang", etc


Interesting the range of characters that are available in Gboard on my Android phone.

Seems odd that you'd get things like ‰ and √ and not an interrobang.

It exists on AnySoftKeyboard (FLOSS android keyboard): ‽

My problem with the interrobang, besides the fact it's unnecessary ("?!" does just fine, the same way we don't need to replace "th" with "θ"), is that it's so damned ugly and hard to distinguish.

The counter [1] -- the open space between the vertical bar and the question mark curve -- is just too cramped ("‽"), so it's aesthetically unbalanced at large sizes, and just looks like a question mark with an accidental smudge at small sizes. It just doesn't "fit in" with any of the other glyphs of the alphabet, it's badly designed.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counter_(typography)

FWIW, Replacing "th" with "θ" would really be a "re-placement": Theta and the "voiced dental fricative"[1] were smeared together in Old English long ago.[2]

I.e. "there" and "theater" are two different "th"'s.[3]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voiced_dental_fricative

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Th_(digraph)#Voiced_fricative_...

[3] English speakers: if you pay attention to how you speak those two words you'll notice that your tongue is doing different things to make those two "th" sounds. This is a weird "archaeo-linguistic" holdover in your "motor-culture". In a certain sense, "you" always knew this but didn't know you knew.

Icelandic still retains the Old English letters for voiced and unvoiced dental fricatives. Icelandic is said to be the closest modern language to Old English.

ð ("eth", voiced) and þ ("thorn", unvoiced). So you could write "ðere" and "þeater", for words that sound correct but don't make any sense in either language. :)

Fun fact, thorn is the reason for today's archaic phrase "Ye olde", which was always pronounced "The old". Print shops didn't have a thorn character, so they substituted y instead. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorn_(letter)

* Kind of a tangent, but I'm also fascinated by Icelandic's unvoiced nasal fricative, a sound we don't have in English, and something that seems hard to do when you have a cold or runny nose.

Similarly, there's no letter for the voiced palato-alveolar fricative in English (and as I recall it's actually one of the newest sounds that is part of English). It's the voiced version of the "sh" sound -- an example is the "si" part of "vision".

Cyrillic uses Ж

Not to mention that the English letters were ð and þ rather than θ.

True. :) I used θ as an example just because it's an IPA symbol.

I can't think of any pair of English words that are distinguished by a voiced vs unvoiced dental fricative at the same location, c.f. 'sue' and 'zoo'.

Does any such pair exist?

Took me a while (I taught EFL for years and it never came up), but I can come up with two:

- "thy" and "thigh"

- "either" and "ether"

It’s tellig that the first involves an archaic word no longer in use. And in my pronunciation (coastal California) the second pair differ in the vowel not the consonant. I pronounce them both as in “thy”.

"either" can be pronounced two ways in the first vowel, "ee" (like "eek!") or "eye" (like "eyeball"). Same as "neither". To compare with "ether" I'm assuming the first.

But "ether" can only be pronounced with unvoiced "th". If you pronounce it voiced, that would be very unusual. Are you sure? Check out:


The question is about the "th". Neither one I pronounce voiced.

> Neither one I pronounce voiced.

Before you said you use "thy" for both, which is voiced. So you say "aythur" like "Arthur" for the word either?

Maybe bath and bathe? Breath and breathe?

Also found this, which agrees with yours and adds teethe::teeth, and wreathe::wreath.


Bath/bathe and breath/breathe also change their vowels, so they wouldn't count.

But teeth/teethe is another good one! As for wreathe, that too... I didn't even know that was a word. :)

Off the top of my head, I think it's a verb form: to surround something. Smoke wreathed around the altar as the chime rang through the hall.

Ah, right. Wreathe: me neither.

Unlike the https://xefer.com/2008/03/interrocolon which actually would be useful

Chess annotation symbols for moves https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess_annotation_symbols

?? (Blunder)

? (Mistake)

?! (Dubious move)

!? (Interesting move)

! (Good move)

‼ (Brilliant move)

I was just thinking that combining them took away my ability to express different emotions depending on which came first, but my use is the opposite of those.

To me, the first one is the immediate response, so a dubious move might look exciting at first but then you realize its problematic aspect, so !? would be the sequence.

Maybe it was because he chose the ugliest of all possibilities. Some of the proposals were ingenious, the two marks combining into a new unity that still retains features of its two parents. But he just laid one mark over the other. It's muddled and mundane.

Anyway, we have a convenient convention that works with what we have: lay out the sentence as a question, but end it with the exclamation point. Isn't that a simple fix!

Yeah, I am with you on that one. I find the symbol at a glance really hard to distinguish from a normal question mark. I do feel there could be a need for the interobang, but it should also stand out more and many of the other suggestions look much more distinct.

Why can't we just use two punctuation marks?!

iies indeed, vuhii can't vvue dgust use tvuo gliiphs for sounds that are "obvious" combinations of other sounds?

You don't need to invent new ones, English already has plenty of digraphs: gh, sh, ou, ie, ei, ae, oa, th, ng, gn, wh, ch, ph, kn, tch, ough, ti, zg, ci, wr, and qu.

I’m curious how you got to your examples. Will upvote an honest answer. The ii is used for y, long i, and short i, and I don’t understand any of the vs, or why they would be obvious in these combinations, doesn’t v only make one sound in English?

Don't act like English is anything close to having a proper syllabary.

ies indeed vuhai can’t vee just use tvoo gliphs

Is a much more readable example I think.

The second paragraph of TFA mentions "ox-turn" line breaking (alternating left-to-right and right-to-left lines), but unforgivably fails to mention every typographer's favorite vocabulary word for this: "boustrophedonic".

OMG, I just made the same comment!


> For thousands of years, in some written languages, there was no space between words. People were expected figure out sentences and clauses while reading aloud.



According to Wikipedia, spaces weren't added because:

(1) Free form of speech is so continuous, adding inaudible spaces to manuscripts would have been considered illogical.

(2) At a time when ink and papyrus were quite costly, adding spaces would be an unnecessary waste of such writing mediums.

(3) Typically, the reader of the text was a trained performer, who would have already memorized the content and breaks of the script, so the scroll acted as a cue sheet and did not require in-depth reading.

I'm not convinced by reason #1 because words are distinct even in speech. No matter how fast or continuous your speech when you say, "The dog jumped", everyone will agree that "dog" is a distinct thing, even if you're illiterate. It seems quite logical to separate "dog" from the words before and after when you write.

Reason #2 sounds barely believable. I'm thinking that #3 must have been the main reason. Anyone have more insight?

> I'm not convinced by reason #1 because words are distinct even in speech. No matter how fast or continuous your speech when you say, "The dog jumped", everyone will agree that "dog" is a distinct thing, even if you're illiterate. It seems quite logical to separate "dog" from the words before and after when you write.

Clearly you've never tried to learn a second language?

Word segmentation is a very difficult task for non-native speakers. Segmentation failure is a common error in children learning for the first time.

The word breaks are only obvious to you because you've had decades of daily practice parsing them. Look at a speech stream as a waveform or spectrogram, and they vanish: they are objectively not there.

Since several people made the same point about word segmentation, I obviously didn't express myself very well.

What I was trying to say is that, assuming you speak the language, you will recognize "dog" a separate ‘ thing’ in a sentence. If I point to a German Shepherd asking what that is, anyone who speaks English can reply "dog". It can't be shorter; it could be longer but then you're adding information ("big dog").

Even illiterate people know "dog" as a distinct ‘ thing’. Since even spoken words are distinct concepts, with a beginning and end, and having boundaries (even if the speech waveform looks continuous), it seems natural to show the boundaries (eg., by placing spaces) if you going to starting writing down the words.

Well, we know the spaces weren't added in early writing, by why not? Wikipedia's reason #1 is that adding inaudible spaces would be illogical. I'm not convinced that that was the main reason. The other reasons seem more plausible.

Well, if showing the boundaries doesn't matter for native speakers in spoken language, why would it be natural to assume that it is needed in written language?

Since we are talking about accuracy and efficiency of language here via a textual interface, I'll voice the following observation, and attempt to not be overly pedantic

The statement/question "Clearly you've never tried to learn a second language?" is an expression pattern I see frequently. A statement ended with a question mark.

Perhaps it was meant to be intentionally cheeky? Which would be funny, if I knew to interpret it that way. A /s would make this more obvious to me

Or possibly, the sentence was started based on an assumption. This was realized part way through, then a ? was tacked on at the end?

Is there another way to interpret this expression that I am not aware of?

Assumptions of others' knowledge seems to be commonplace, yet we seem to still convey ideas somewhat decently. "Rum and Coke" vs "Roman Coke". Maybe Roman's love their rum and Coke? Either way, odds are, I'll receive the correct drink.

In regards to the original article. Here are my assumptions.

I perceive a sentence as a train-of-connected-thoughts that conveys an actional expression of a person's experience, as well as their attached feelings to that experience. In that regard, I similarly view any attached grammar.

"The dog did a backflip?!" - A person receives data of an experience, first checks it's validity, realizes it falls outside their current understanding of possibility, then proceeds to double-check that they received the data correctly

> Receiver of data: "Wait, did I hear that correctly?"

"The dog did a backflip!?" - A person receives data of an experience, first accepts it (likely first-hand or from a reliable source), then realizes it falls outside their current understanding of possibility based on other reinforced models of reality, and proceeds to doubt said data)

> Receiver of data: "I didn't believe my own eyes!"

"The dog did a backflip‽" - A person doesn't have a preconceived notion for the data they are receiving, and has received it in a way that conveys that it is extraordinary - conveyed below

> Presenter of data: "The dog did a backflip!"

> Receiver of data: "Do dogs not usually do backflips?"

Feel free to correct me if I am wrong

>I'm not convinced by reason #1 because words are distinct even in speech. No matter how fast or continuous your speech when you say, "The dog jumped", everyone will agree that "dog" is a distinct thing, even if you're illiterate.

Segmenting words is actually a quite complex cognitive task that takes a while to acquire, usually considered in the framework of statistical learning[0].

Another aspect here is that the concept of a word is somewhat fuzzy, with compound words[1] emerging quite naturally, particularly in some languages. For relatively recent examples of compounds in English, consider "website" and "cellphone" (both of which are now, as a separate step, gradually becoming the default meanings of "site" and "phone").

So I don't find it too surprising that once upon a time word segmentation was even more flexible.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statistical_learning_in_langua...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compound_(linguistics)

If you listen to people speaking in a language you do not understand it can be _very_ hard to pick out the space between individual words. When learning a language your brain learns to artificially break up the almost continuous stream of sound into distinct words.

I notice this on occasion when people are speaking a language I do understand, but I miss a syllable or two when they begin speaking. The rest of their speech might as well be another language as it all runs together incomprehensibly. I cannot parse the whole sentence after missing the prompt at the beginning, and cannot even separate where the words split.

> I'm not convinced by reason #1 because words are distinct even in speech.

Not in all languages. Lookup "liaison" in French, e.g. (and a not uncommon complaint of people learning French is that they can't separate the words in spoken speech).

I'm not terrible at French and still struggle sometimes to discern the word breaks. Malapropisms in my native English can arise from that too. Learning a new language it can be v. hard to distinguish word breaks - our brain fills them in when we know a language, which is why it's hard to imagine that people might not agree that "dog" is separate.

Try saying "Hangdogears". Is it "hangdog ears" is it "hang dog ears" is it "hang dogears".

(hangdog = guilty visage; dogears = folded page corners)

Try it on someone else and see how they interpret it.

For non-native speakers, it's particularly difficult to pronounce and/or understand English composed word when they are "joined" with the same consonant (eg: newsstand, withhold, ...)

Reason #3 is not in itself a reason to forego spaces, just a reason why users would not insist on them. And no newsreader or actor today would prefer his cue cards or autocue without spaces.

I suspect a major reason not listed is inertia: people were used to reading without spaces between words, and never considered the alternative. With some help from reason #2, the increased cost.

Logical? Sure, most languages do separate words for this reason.

But languages are never completely logical. There are planty of writing systems where there are no breaks between words. Some of the ones I can think of includes Thai, Korean and Chinese.

>I'm not convinced by reason #1 because words are distinct even in speech.

Perhaps you only spend time around trained actors who enunciate their speech. Because let me tell to most people I know ramble their speech into one long string of sounds. Go listen to a recording of a language you know nothing about and tell me what the words are. Oh, and not a news cast, but everyday conversation between friends having a good time.

You speak English so you know it's "the dog jumped" and not "thud awgjumpt." But if you yell both of those quickly there's not any difference.

FORTRAN code requires no space (to save space on punchcards) ; it seems an appropriate similitude between protohistoric languages.

Amazingly, FORTRAN doesn’t even require spaces between keywords and variable names. So when the compiler sees FORI=1 it has to look still further ahead to decide if this is a for-loop (FORI=1TO9DO) or an assignment to a variable named FORI.

IIRC we actually don't pronounce most spaces unless we're being very clear, the sound is called an epiglottal stop.

I can't really do much with the numbered options there but I'd just like to point out that Thai has no spaces between words. I know six year olds who can read Thai properly so I don't know about trained performers or whatever.

> Sometimes, this never-ending string of letters would execute what was called an ox-turn, first reading left to right, then switching to read back from right to left.

What a fail! Perfect opportunity missed to use the word "boustrophedon": and in the matching historic context, too.

Having long palindromes would be super helpful in these awful documents.

Could be. Note that the Greeks actually mirrored the individual letters in the lines going the other way. So there is no ambiguity, as long as a line contains some asymmetric characters; you know when your eyes have landed on a right-left line, regardless of palindromes and such.

As a daily user of the interrobang, I’ve just gotta say, how awesome is this‽

For any aspiring interrobangers, one thing that helps make them easier to use is to set up text replacements. I have replacements setup on my phone and computers to replace “?!” and “!?” with “‽” automatically.

For me "!?" means astonishment to the point of questioning, like "WTF!?", whereas "?!" is questioning emphasis, as if a meta exclamation would be applied to the entire question before it. "What are you gonna do now?!"

I usually consider them as applied one after the other:

?! is about first questioning and then usually being angry.

!? is about first having strong feelings and then questioning their origins.

So for me WTF would usually be followed by ?! but maybe it's just me.

WTF is an interesting case because it can express both versions.

WTF?! with an emphasis on the question means you lack information about the subject, WTF!? with an emphasis on the exclamation means you know what occurred but you're expressing shock/outrage.

E.g. the first version is "I don't know what just happened" and the second is "I can't believe what just happened".

With an interrobang there's no way of expressing both versions.

Honestly it looks too bold (as in, font weight) than the rest of the text. Just realising I'm not a fan

It would need some typographical refinement in many fonts where it's currently not much more than superimposed ! and ?, making the bowl especially too tight. But in some fonts it's rather well designed and aesthetically pleasing.

Are you not a fan of the font, or of the character ?

The rendition of the character in a specific typeface, most likely.

Yes this - it just looks out of place in every font I've ever seen it in

I’ve done the same thing! It’s awesome.

This would really make for a great exception operator, for one-liner exception handling.

  (alert(null) ‽ console.log(error));
Better than:

  (x === null ? console.log(error) : alert(x));
EDIT: hey downvotes, let's play funny/not funny.

Do you really want to give Larry Wall any more ideas‽

I can't seem to find the ‽ key on my keyboard.

APL would like to have a word: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/APL_(codepage)

On Linux with the Compose key enabled, it's Compose, !, ?.


Well, obviously, the compiler could also interpret the consecutive use of each of the two distinct characters question mark (?) and exclamation point (!). But it would have to tolerate both options to remain convenient (?! and !? have the same effect).

Meanwhile the interrobang (‽) would really be an Easter egg.

most languages wouldn't work properly with ?! as that could be already valid (unary ! operator meaning not, and ? being used for the ternay operator). So you can't distinguish between: foo ?!bar : baz and an interrobang like operator. !? on the otherhand is likely to already be invalid and be parseable as an interrobang since it wouldn't already be valid to have a ? immediately following a ! in many languages. Having both work might be nice, but is likely impracticle for backwards compatibility.

You can't‽ But it's right there‽

With ligatures you can just use ?! and make it look that way.

Racket doesn't seem to mind using λ despite it not being on the keyboard. I find it more convenient to remember a hotkey than to type `lambda`


  // Would run console.error with the Error object
  (alert(x) ?: console.error);

You may know this, but others may not: this is an actual thing, and is called the Elvis Operator (think the hair). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elvis_operator

Shockingly, this is actually accepted by GCC's C dialect! And PHP! By the simple implementation expedient of making the second operand of the ternary operator optional.

This is indeed a form supported by GNU C extension [1] (but `?:` is not a single token, so `? :` is permitted).

[1] https://gcc.gnu.org/onlinedocs/gcc/Conditionals.html#Conditi...

Heh. A few years ago one of the items on UChicago's Scavenger Hunt list was any UChicago library book containing an interrobang, used as intended, outside of a discussion of punctuation. I looked for a few hours. Never found one.

¡Why not go for the Spanish option? Indeed, there's an inverted variant: ⸘Do Spanish speakers actually use that‽

We do use inverted opening marks, but I've never seen mismatched opening and closing marks (until your comment!). Not sure if that's what you were asking, though.

Also, if I were to use mismatched opening and closing marks, I'd invert the order, question mark first and bang later

We do invert the order (I'd say "properly nest") of the symbols when we use both interrogation and exclamation together, e.g. ¿¡qué!?

Hervé Bazin , a French writer, proposed a few more:


Expressing sentiment succinctly in text. The precursors to emoticons and emojis.

Interrobang and Keming by Liz Crain:



IT seems now, it's much easier to create lasting end marks, not exactly a symbol, but for example if I end a post on reddit with /s everyone knows I mean sarcasm (almost everyone).

What would be the closest emoji to this? The face with one eyebrow raised? It's a bit hard to make out.

(Ah, HN strips emoji away from comments).


Is there a distinction between ?! and !?

To me there is a subtle difference, emphasizing the punctuation that comes first.

If so, maybe we should just accept as standard using two punctuation and allow context or intent to determine ordering.

All I want is a way to end a sentence sarcastically. "/s" is fine but it would be neat if there were a character for it.

The same people who like this kind of thing usually also like portmanteaux (the lowest form of wordplay) and then offer it as evidence that they love language.

Strange that this article didn't even once mention the only 20th century punctuation innovation that actually stuck :)

Interrobang is such a suitable name, fun and slightly suggestive.

I liked the other proposed name: Exclamaquest.

Drop the 'Interro' part if you want it to catch on. Just call it a 'Bang'.

There's already a bang, and it's quite popular!


! is already 'Bang'

Can I use it‽

Interesting article

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