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In Other Words: Defunctuation

Also becoming popular as a
tattoo (image by Emily Lewis )
It’s not just words that go extinct, sometimes the symbols before or after them fall off the perch. Take the interrobang – not the sexual torture it sounds like but a handy combination of the exclamation mark and the question mark or . It was invented in 1962 to handle both alarming and questioning sentences, but despite getting a run on typewriters in the 1970s never really took off. It became defunctuation.

The interrobang joins typographical oddities at the foggy end of the keyboard such as irony mark ؟ (a backward question mark invented in France and never seen in the USA) and asterism (a triangle of three asterisks used to signal the end of a sub-chapter). Still, there is the hope of refunctuation as symbols get resurrected like the @ sign – once exclusively used by accountants for “at the rate of” before email jumpstarted its comeback.

 In Other Words is a regular on the Big Issue's Ointment page. 


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