An interrobang, or a dog’s cock‽

It’s been quite a week in sleepy Somerset. I thought I had finished my latest WIP. It topped out at around 75,000 words. I closed it down for a few days thinking I was ready for a round of submissions to a literary agent or three. When I opened it back up I ended writing another 8,000 words, so now I have to go back to editing!

The title of this week’s blog isn’t edgy and controversial for no good reason—although I am certainly not above a bit of good old fashioned Anglo Saxon swearing, they are, after all, just words, and they are kind of my stock in trade these days. The title is germane to this week’s topic—punctuation.

Isn’t it funny how as a writers we use common forms of punctuation without considering why in fact they exist in the forms that they do.

Take the exclamation mark. Its origins are believed to be Latin. The most likely theory is that in Latin the exclamation of joy was ‘io‘. In Latin the i was written above the o and all letters were capitalized. Written in this way it looks a lot like an exclamation point. Makes sense.

With the advent of email and subsequently social media, the use of the exclamation mark has become rather ubiquitous. They can be found liberally scattered throughout every facebook post and Twitter tweet and often appear nested, presumably to demonstrate how truly brimming with joy the tweeter believes his/her/their post to be!!!

It wasn’t always the case. For the longest time they were considered the tool of the fool by most in the writing/publishing industry.

F Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.” Elmore Leonard wrote of exclamation marks: “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” Which means, on average, an exclamation mark every book and a half (makes note to check how many I have used in my current WIP—it’s certainly more than one!).

Prior to the 1970’s the exclamation mark didn’t even appear on typewriter keyboards. Before that, you had to type a period, and then use the backspace to go back and stick an apostrophe above it. When dictating letters to typists people would say “bang” to mark the exclamation point and those crude and roguish workers in the printing industry called them dog’s cocks.

Things change over time of course, although punctuation marks tend to do so slowly. The interrobang was a notable exception. It was invented in the 1960’s by Martin K. Speckter who wanted a way to convey a form of energy added to a question “you are wearing that to Mom’s funeral‽”

Clashing shirt, jacket and tie

As you can see, the interrobang takes the form of a question mark (interro from interrogatio, the Latin for ‘rhetorical question’ or ‘cross-examination’) overlayed with the bang. Could have been worse, it might have been called the interro-dog’s-cock if it had been left down to our printing friends.

Interrobang image

It made its way briefly onto the keyboard of Remington typewrites before falling entirely out of fashion by the time the 1970’s rolled around. But it does still exist, albeit in an informal use, and can be used in addition to the fourteen more formal punctuation marks such as the comma, the period, the ellipsis and the colon, which incidentally used to be called by those pesky printers, the dog’s bollocks, for obvious reasons :—

I hope you enjoyed this weeks blog. Feel free to like and share and follow along for more fascinating,—if mostly useless, facts and updates on current writing projects.

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BTW – if you wish to visit the pub in the featured image, it is a real pub but you will have to get to Toronto to enjoy it.

I hope you really enjoyed the read‽