The English language hangs on the infrastructure of punctuation. Oftentimes, the message we wish to convey cannot effectively be portrayed without the accompaniment of proper punctuation.
For example, a question posed without a question mark reads incorrectly. A sentence meant for emphasis, though presented without its exclamation mark, is lackluster. Any collection of sentences without basic periods is an assortment of words and ideas that do not have the structure they need.
However, simple punctuation cannot always satisfy our exact message, hence the birth of the elusive “interrobang.”
This uncommon piece of punctuation “asks a question in an excited manner, expresses excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asks a rhetorical question.”
“He said what?!”
Shocked, Harry exclaimed, “I’m a wizard?!”
“That assignment was due when?!”
I can see the appeal to a single punctuation mark that portrays equal parts question and emphasis. However, though Peter Robinson of The Guardian calls the interrobang “daring” and “sexy,” I argue that the interrobang causes more confusion than clarity.
As a copy editor, readability is paramount to all other objectives. Every edit should be made toward the single goal of increasing the ease with which the reader can understand the content.
The use of uncommon punctuation, like the interrobang, distracts the reader from the actual content, instead forcing them to inspect and interpret the use of a mark they are unfamiliar with.
As a communications professional, it is important to have a vocabulary arsenal that you can draw from to say or write exactly what you mean. A reliance on untraditional punctuation to make a point, to me, signifies laziness.
And I’m not the only one:
In the informal realm, I can excuse the use of this debatable punctuation hybrid. But as someone who studies, values and practices careful writing techniques, I know that my words are as powerful than the punctuation I surround them with.