Lauren Krueger & Matthew David Brozik

?! vs. !?

In Definally on June 29, 2011 at 10:00 am

Some dude named Jim (not his real name) asks, “What’s the difference between ?! and !? …?”

Definally. responds: Duh! Details in a moment, but first a typography tangent.

There is a character, called the interrobang, that combines the question mark (known to some as the “interrogative point”) and the exclamation point (known in printers’ jargon as a “bang”). It looks like this: ‽

Definally. likes the interrobang in theory, but not in practice—specifically because there is a difference between ?! and !? And it is just the difference you might suspect: which punctuation mark comes first absolutely sets a particular tone. !? tells you that the sentence it precedes is more an exclamation than a question (i.e., more a rhetorical question than an actual question), whereas ?! ends something that is more likely to demand an actual response.

Example: “When Jim came down to the kitchen in silver lamé pants, his mother could be heard even two floors above screaming, Are you crazy!? What were you thinking when you bought those?!

(Jim’s mom is not really interested in whether Jim thinks he’s crazy… because she already thinks that he is. But she does want to know what was going through his mind when he bought silver lamé pants, in case she needs to testify in a commitment hearing.)

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