Re: Punctuation character (inverted interrobang) proposed

From: John Hudson (
Date: Mon Sep 05 2005 - 18:44:52 CDT

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    Peter Kirk wrote:

    >> ... The fact that copy editors have some residual understanding that
    >> an utterance may grammatically be either a question or an exclamation,
    >> but not both, ...

    > How short-sighted is this grammatical analysis‽ Many sentences,
    > especially those beginning with "How" but potentially very many
    > rhetorical questions, have the surface structure of a question when
    > their real intent is as an exclamation. As such they are commonly
    > punctuated with exclamation marks, but some pedants might insist on a
    > question mark - although they may then be misinterpreted as real
    > questions.

    Peter, the whole point of the exclamation mark is precisely to distinguish an exclamation
    from an identically worded question: 'How nice!' vs 'How nice?' That *is* the grammatical
    function: to make clear the distinction between a question and an exclamation, because
    they are two different things.

    Rhetorical questions are questions, not exclamations, so they are terminated with a
    question mark. If you meant your opening sentence to be a rhetorical question you would
    punctuate it thus:

        How short-sighted is this grammatical analysis?

    If you meant it as an exclamation, you would punctuate it like this:

        How short-sighted is this grammatical analysis!

    And if you read these two different utterances aloud you would employ conventions of
    stress and emphasis to vocalise the distinction. All the interrobang does is ambiguate the
    very thing that the question and exclamation marks are intended to disambiguate: it
    indicates that you don't know whether what you are writing is a question or an exclamation.

    Maybe we should encode a GENERIC PUNCTUATION MARK for people who don't know how to
    puncuate, to use in place of commas, semi-colons, exclamation marks, etc.

    John Hudson

    Tiro Typeworks
    Vancouver, BC

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