5 Controversial Punctuation Marks & How to Use Them

You may never have heard of Jeff Rubin, but he’s an important figure in the US – we think so, anyway. This man founded National Punctuation Day®, “A celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis”.

Indeed, Vampire Weekend were not the first – nor will they be the last – to be exasperated over the Oxford comma. The semi-colon, Marmite in grammar circles, will surely continue to instil rage over the centuries; and when is a hyphen a hyphen (or a dash or minus sign) anyway? These common forms of punctuation divide editors, writers and ordinary grammar fanatics every day. But there are some far more curious little marks that you may be unaware of – either lurking, untouched, on your keyboard or that would scratch a grammatical itch that’s been bugging you for some time. Read on and find out!

1. The Interrobang

If you’re even remotely dramatic as a person, you probably crave this at least once a day. In fact, you may never have heard of the “interrobang”, but it’s likely that at some point in your written life you’ve created one yourself. Representing combined surprise and curiosity, introducing this amalgamation of a question mark and an exclamation mark would surely save millions of people hours of typing. “There’s a single punctuation mark for that‽ It’s not standard‽ And I didn’t already know about it‽”. There sure is and it’s called the interrobang.

2. The Pilcrow

You’ve almost definitely seen this, but without knowing it’s considered punctuation. This is the symbol word processors use to show “formatting marks” (MS Word) or “invisibles” (Pages). Admittedly, it’s probably a good thing that the role of this one was reduced to an indication during the editing stages (side note: if you’re not using that functionality, you should be), as it is the precursor to actual paragraph breaks. We can all agree, the modern layout is preferable.

3. The Ampersand

This finds its place onto this list because it represents all ligatures (by its printing-related definition), everywhere. The ampersand is to letters what the interrobang is to punctuation marks, combining the ‘e’ and ‘t’ of the Latin word for ‘and’ into a single, incredibly useful symbol that rather outlived its Latin parent.

4. The Because Sign

Continuing the trend of words turned punctuation, this one is also arguably less a form of punctuation than a symbol used in shorthand… but then, shorthand has arguably been relegated to trainee PAs and interpreters, who abandon the practice swiftly upon qualification for the more up-to-date version – typing. Thus, we argue here that the three dots making up an inverted triangle belong on a keyboard. Why? ∵ it’s quick and unambiguous.

5. Question Mark Adaptations

The interrobang got its own section ∵ it’s amazing. But it’s actually the most simplistic of a whole series of variations on a theme. In our digital age, we often face the dilemma of conveying tone through written text and the existing range of punctuation on our keyboards just isn’t sufficient – especially for those of us whose preferred form of communication is through the highest form of wit (try the copyrighted “SarcMark”) or irony (it’s French poet Alcanter de Brahm’s iron mark you want). And is there anything worse than someone responding to your rhetorical question⸮

This article could probably go on forever and there’s no escaping that there’s likely a reason our existing set of grammatical indicators made it onto and stayed on the keyboard. Of course, emojis have changed the game entirely. But next time you’re stuck on how to get your message across, and a crying laughing face just isn’t enough, you’ll perhaps find yourself wishing one of these was more accessible from your keyboard.