Are you alive‽

Better than alive! I’ve learned to type the interrobang!


What the heck’s an intererrobang‽

Contrary to popular opinion, the interrobang (or IB to his friends) is not a curious form of sexual intercourse.

Rather, it’s one of the most glorious punctuation marks (un)known to mankind. Formed by superimposing the humble curve of the question mark (or, depending on your nationality and/or font, the accusatory interrogation point, or even the exotic, snobbish erotreme) with the vertical insistence of the exclamation point (or his well-bred cousin, ecphoneme). The interrobang is at once wondrous and wrathful, skeptical and surprised, quizzical and querulous, inquisitive and indignant, examinatory and exclamatory.

Many of the commenters on blogs that follow developments in the font world have strong, negative opinions about the interrobang. These people are wrong. The interrobang is awesome. Also, they read font blogs.

Like DaVinci’s helicopter, Mendel’s independent assortment, and even its contemporary, the Ford Seattle-ite, the interrobang was simply too far ahead of its time. Invented in 1962 by advertising executive Martin K. Speckter—to date it remains the only actually worthwhile thing ever invented by an advertising executive—the interrobang would have to wait for the rise of the internet to find a medium that truly cried out for its unique mixture of questioning outrage.

Consider: How many times have you written “WTF!?!?”
Wouldn’t you really rather write: “WTF‽‽”

Elegant, efficient, obscure. Using an interrobang online is a mark (pun accidental, but deliberately retained) of distinction and refinement. As a further benefit, the use of the interrobang has the potential to resolve a dispute even more protracted than the battle between the Little- and Big-endians—should it be “WHAT?!” or “WHAT!?”, are you more surprised, or more confused? What if you’re equally both‽

Alright, you’ve sold me! How can I use this magic mark‽

Luckily for you, the overachieving geeks at the Unicode Consortium thought to include the interrobang in their standard. Actually, they sort of had to, because Unicode is the kind of project that computer geeks undertake with a goal so superficially simple, it’s only after you think about it that you realize just how insanely audacious it is. Unicode aims to provide the means for computer representation of every character in every language that exists (and maybe a few that don’t). Easy, right? You just need enough codespace. Unicode contains space for up to 1,114,112 characters.

Interrobang is number 203D, in hex.

On Linux systems running Gnome, you can press:
Ctrl+Shift+U then you’ll get an underlined “u”, type 203D and press space and the underlined code will transform into an interrobang! This works in almost all GTK+ apps.

XFCE is the same deal, but use Ctrl+Shift+X instead. If you’re running KDE, you’ll just have to dig through the character map.

I haven’t tested this, but in Windows, you should be able to generate an interrobang by typing “203d” and then pressing Alt+X.

If you’re running Mac OSX, Apple doesn’t want you thinking that different. Typing an interrobang is a huge hassle, but the instructions are here.

Finally, most browsers will render the (X)HTML character code & #8253 (remove the space) as an interrobang, so you can use that for platform-neutral interrobang placement, in, say, comments on internet blogs.

For the record, I have no idea how the totally worthless tilde (~) rates its own damn key on the QWERTY keyboard, but the noble interrobang is relegated to the nether-reaches of the unicode table. Apparently in the late 1960s, there were actually some typewriters produced that included an interrobang key. If anyone has one they’d like to sell me, you would be awesome.

What can I do to promote this wonderful typographic innovation‽

Well, for starters, use it! But if you want to showcase your love of the interrobang in a more visible, real-world way, Arts & Letters Daily has Interrobang T-shirts and merchandise available for purchase.

Wearing one of these will allow you to easily segregate the population of the world into three groups.
1) The people who approach you and say, “Why do you have a question mark and an exclamation point on your shirt?”
2) The much better class of people who approach and say, “You’re wearing an interrobang shirt. You are awesome.”
3) Font-blog readers.

Enough about interrobangs, where are you‽ What have you been doing‽

I am in Paris, France. I have been doing some cool things, and also agonizing and procrastinating over my 2nd Quarter Watson report, which is the main reason I haven’t been writing here. I will try to write more frequently, and possibly go back to cover some of the stuff I missed.

3 Responses to “Are you alive‽”

  1. Dave Jacob Hoffman Says:

    Time to throw down my typography cred here: Yes, I do occasionally read font blogs. Yes, I do own Helvetica the movie on DVD. Yes, my friends and I routinely point out instances of Papyrus used in professional work and groan aloud.

    So let me step in to say that if we did not have insane typographers mashing together existing characters, we would not have the lovely ampersand. I don’t think I could stand to live in such a world.

    I embrace the interrobang as a symbol of experimentation. It represents a bold step towards new frontiers, a flag on the page that proclaims, “WTF IS THAT THING‽”

  2. Ashling Says:

    I am excited I can be part of the population group #2. Whatever would I do without my favorite geek friend to explain the oddities and new fonts of this world!?<-( insert interrobang here because I am not technology smart enough to do so)

    Also, good luck working on your Watson report and I hope you’re enjoying France, I pretty much love it there.

  3. Brian Mc Says:

    I can appreciate enthusiasm for the interrobang. All you really need to render it is the ability to have one character placed on top of another, like typing a sentence and then lining-out words. Hacking Word, etc. to allow this would open up a lot of possibilities. A good old-fashioned typewriter could do this easily. In the meantime, typing: WHAT?? seems to convey the concept of an interrobang.****If David Jacob likes the ampersand, he should love the section symbol and be quite fond of a stylish dollar sign or paragraph symbol.

Leave a Reply