Sunday, September 23, 2007

Obscure, Sarcastic, and Ambiguous: Punctuation Helps Make Your Point

Today we focus on obscure punctuation. I can no longer hold in my desire to talk about the interrobang. It seems to me that people would consider this to be one of the most useful of punctuation marks for posting in fora, especially those where heated discussions commonly occur.

If you didn't check the above description (or read Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss) let me explain in brief. The interrobang is a combination of a question mark and an exclamation point. It is used to express an emphatic emotion like surprise or anger while asking a question. I have always used “?!” to represent an interrobang. I was unaware that offer a custom version, as listed in the above link.

Now that you know how to inject emotion into your questions, you are ready to learn how to indicate that you meant to be ironic as well. Yes, there are marks for that, as well, although none so well-regarded as the interrobang. Underware has designed their own version. You would need to combine the exclamatory power of this version with the questioning strength of the reversed question mark. I'll write about my opinion on using these tomorrow, since this post is about punctuation marks in general.

If these fail to fill your obscurity meter, consider the mark for intentional ambiguity. I like the mark, but I'm not so sure it's needed. Most folks write ambiguous sentences accidentally and generally don't realize it until someone has leapt to the wrong conclusion. (I need a mark that combines ambiguity and sarcasm for the end of this sentence!)

In my quest for other underused punctuation marks, I discovered William J Buchholz's snerk-worthy piece from the November, 1979 issue of the Phi Beta Kappan. Read the section on colon use, if you would be so kind; then read through my post titles. Clearly, I have established my intellectual authority without even trying.~