What is the interrobang‽ It’s that weird thing! Wikipedia says it’s a “non-standard punctuation mark” used to “combine the functions of the question mark and the exclamation mark.” The Guardian describes it as “that inappropriate over-sharer we all know.” Brand New calls it “the hipster of punctuation marks.” It’s a lot of things, but most importantly it is a single girl’s bf(f). Join me and claim the interrobang as your bæ this V-day.
The short history is this: Martin K. Speckter conceptualized the interrobang in 1962. On top of running his own advertising agency, he also edited Type Talks, a journal about typography in advertising. Speckter was annoyed with the growing trend in copywriting of using “?!” for an excited or rhetorical question. He decided that there should be one mark instead of an unsightly portmanteau-ed two. Speckter, like the single you, knew that one was better than two.
Speckter’s first designs look like your typical three-hour swipe binge on Bumble—same, same, a little different. And unlike your Bumble match, the interrobang was received with open arms when first introduced.
Speckter’s first sketches.
Sketches by Larry Ottino, Joe Carter and Frank Davies.
Smith-Corona’s interrobang key.
It was mentioned in numerous publications and American Type Founders (A.T.F) stated they would design an interrobang for all their new typefaces! They ended up only designing an interrobang into one face, Americana.
Americana, designed by Richard Isbell for American Type Founders in 1966. Courtesy of The Herb Lubalin Center.
From there, it went downhill. Grammar aficionados discredited it and fancy new “cold type” machines still had limited character sets. The six year gap between the interrobangs inception to printing also didn’t help. By the early 1970s it had almost completely fallen out of use. The interrobang still gets some occasional hype, but it never made a full recovery.
Existing interrobangs. Full list at Unicode.
Single 20-somethings are what the interrobang needs to make a full recovery. Why? I’ve only been out of the dating game for two years, and I’m surprised by how much everything has already changed. What is a “superlike” and why do I have 180 messages in my OKCupid inbox‽ Everyone is “chill” and asking me if I like pizza? Basically, I am questioning everything (?), loudly complaining (!) and looking for some clarity (‽). Hello, Interrobang.
Laser cuts of ampersand and interrobang.
To be fair, I’ve always been a bit obsessed with the character. I include the glyph in all of my typefaces and my eyes are always peeled for interrobang nuggets of history. The interrobang has been my nerdy #letterlove for as long as I’ve loved type. It’s even a shortcut on my phone. When I type ‘?!’ it magically turns into ‘‽’
How to set an interrobang text replacement.
To illustrate why this character is more necessary than ever, I’ve highlighted some very real, in-use examples that may or may not be from personal experience.
It sets you apart from the masses on dating apps.
SCENE: Dating App Bio reads: “My favorite character is the interrobang and yours should be too.”
Hot Piece: “Omg I just looked up the interrobang. So cool!”
You: “Should we discuss this over a drink‽”
Hot Piece: “I’d love to!”
Because it’s passive aggressive:
SCENE: Texting you ex. Attempting to acquire knee-high leather boots you left at his place.
You: “Can I just get your keys from Ben.”
Him: “Yep! How’s 1:30?”
Him: “Cool…I (won’t) see you then!”
For your general disdain with relationships.
SCENE: Friend is dating a lame and you feel recently empowered by your singledom.
Her: “He told me that he was on Team Rob and Blac Chyna.”
You: “He said WHAT‽ If he’s not on team Kylie and Tyga, then he’s not on your team.”
Because it’s honest.
SCENE: You get home after a day of angry photoshopping, noisy drinks with friends, and an emotional talk with the bodega guy that makes your BLT. Now that you are quiet and alone, you regret everything. You text your bff for some comfort.
You: “Was I too loud today‽”
Bestie: “Yes, but it’s okay. We still love you.”
And if you ever decide that landing a new bae won’t ruin your personal brand:
Him: “I love you.”
You: “No way‽”
We weren’t ready for the interrobang in 1962. But the world has changed in the last 53 years. We need the interrobang more than ever before. Happy Valentines Day, Interrobae!
P.S. If you are interested in learning more about the interrobang, and the secret history of many other punctuation marks, please read Keith Houston’s Shady Characters.