In praise of the Interrobang?!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “By the Dots.”

We all have strange relationships with punctuation — do you overuse exclamation marks? Do you avoid semicolons like the plague? What type of punctuation could you never live without? Tell us all about your punctuation quirks!

I am a punctuation pedant. I read quickly, and yet when I see a punctuation error, it is like hitting a speed bump, at speed. Any engagement with the piece is lost; the author’s credibility is indelibly dented.

On the other hand, correctly used punctuation can exquisitely convey subtleties of meaning and tone. When talking, we pause, we change speed, we stress certain words or phrases, and all of this to help us communicate more effectively. Punctuation helps replicate or capture this.

Perfect punctuation can also lead to me losing concentration. I get lost in appreciation of the sentence’s construction. I remember a piece in the Lord of the Rings, where Tolkien uses a comma, a semicolon and a colon all in one sentence. I can remember the marvellous writing, but, I cannot recall where it was in the book, or what it related to.

I am also fascinated by the way that punctuation can alter the entire meaning of a sentence. This famous example always makes me smile:

An English professor wrote on the board: A woman without her man is nothing. The class was then asked to punctuate the sentence.

  • The men wrote: “A woman, without her man, is nothing.”
  • The women wrote: “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

Yet for all this I am fond of the interrobang, the combination of a question mark and an exclamation mark that some see as poor punctuation. I love its name, and for me it captures that feeling I can get when I am reading a formal piece of work, and suddenly see an egregious punctuation error?! 🙂


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