The Interrobang, the Snark, and the Asterism
Guys, I really like punctuation and grammar. I like proper application of language so much that as a university freshman, I volunteered as a copy editor for the school newspaper. I love when someone recognizes that “Let’s eat Grandma” is not the same as “Let’s eat, Grandma”. The Oxford comma and I are involved.
In all my grammar-geekery, I have developed love for unique punctuation, the little misfits and outliers, the ones that just convey meaning you cannot get out of your commas and semicolons and ellipses. They’re delightfully, wackily whimsical.
What have you done?!
Why is the cat wearing pajamas?!
Why do we have this thing called an interrobang?!
Well, because sometimes your words require a level of yelled-out-surprise that simply cannot be found in a mere question mark or exclamation point. When you don’t wish to calmly inquire as to why the cat is in a onesie, you use the interrobang. The word comes from a portmanteau (bludgeoning two words together to make a new one) of the interrogative point, or question mark, and the bang, or exclamation point.
So you like the asterisk, right?* What if I said you could have three asterisks all in the same punctuation mark? That’s the asterism, the poor, almost obsolete, asterism. It’s used to indicate where something has been left out, like the elipses. Other fun applications of the asterism involve indicating subchapters and that a work is untitled.
This delightfully whimsical character shares a name with a famous nonsense poem from Lewis Carroll (The Hunting of the Snark : “an impossible voyage of an improbable crew to find an inconceivable creature”). The snark is used to indicate, well, snark, or ironic statements, by placing it where a period would go. As much as I appreciate the ability to clarify when things are being said in jest, I’m not a fan of this punctuation. I usually misread it as a question mark, and find myself more confused.
The ampersand has a long and delightful history, even a song to its credit. The shape comes from a mashup of E and T; et is the Latin word for ‘and’. It’s rarely used in writing, except as company names, or to attach the names of authors or spouses. When attaching names, it implies a closer relationship than use of ‘and’. One fun fact? You can use ‘&c.’ as an abbreviation for ‘etc.’
Go forth and punctuate!
* I do too.