Several years ago I discovered a new punctuation mark: The “interrobang”. Right off I liked the name. It’s a “not officially recognized” punctuation mark but it’s used in a sentence to convey both a question and excitement, as in “Did you eat my cake?!” In writing it, you can put the question before the exclamation or vice versa. For fun, you can even combine the question mark and exclamation point into one mark that make a really interesting hybrid.
The interrobang isn’t actually new. Shakespeare used it in one of his plays. It’s also found in movie scripts and comic books through the decades. The Corpus of Contemporary American English contains 3500 examples of interrobangs. And Wiley Coyote used interrobangs a lot in the Road Runner cartoons.
But traditionalists wince at its use. It’s not officially recognized, they say, and should not be used. It breaks the rules. To which I say “pffff!?”
Linguist Marcel Iseli seems to agree with me and says this about the controversial interrobang:
Punctuation should evolve to keep up with the times, and the interrobang does actually have something to add to our understanding of a sentence. It adds a certain nuance to how we interpret a sentence, one that ordinary punctuation marks can’t satisfy. And, since punctuation’s only goal is to clarify sentences for us, any mark that expands on the intended tonality or inflection should be welcomed.
So what’s the point of all this blather about punctuation points? The point is this:
We should live life like an interrobang and encourage others to do the same. Be inquisitive. Ask questions. Live curiously and explore. And do all inquiring with enthusiasm and excitement. Live like a question mark combined with an exclamation point.
But why, you ask, is excited curiosity a big deal? Because that’s the way we are fully engaged with the world. That’s how we stay creative and growing. That’s what extends a robust life. Dr. Emily Campbell lists six benefits of curiosity:
- Curiosity helps us survive.The urge to explore and seek novelty helps us remain vigilant and gain knowledge about our constantly changing environment.
- Curious people are happier.Research has shown curiosity to be associated with higher levels of positive emotions, lower levels of anxiety, more satisfaction with life, and greater psychological well-being.
- Curiosity boosts achievement.Studies reveal that curiosity leads to more enjoyment and participation in school and higher academic achievement.
- Curiosity can expand our empathy.When we are curious about others and talk to people outside our usual social circle, we become better able to understand those with lives, experiences, and worldviews different than our own.
- Curiosity helps strengthen relationships.One study found people were rated as warmer and more attractive if they showed real curiosity
- Curiosity improves healthcare.Research suggests when doctors are genuinely curious about their patients’ perspectives, both doctors and patients report less anger and frustration and make better decisions.
When I discovered the interrobang several years ago I recognized I enjoy living like one. I also like the fact Rotary encourages this kind of living—of being relentlessly curious and fired up with enthusiasm about learning. Then Rotarians takes it one step further and act on the enthusiastic curiosity, asking “How can we make our world better?” What could we do that would be beneficial to all concerned? Rotarians live like an interrobang in action! Isn’t that a great way to live?!