Sunday, November 6, 2011

Punctuation for the Awe-Struck Spaniard

Few pet interests could out-geek typography fandom. I mean, you’re talking about enthusiasm for an element of life that the vast majority of people see constantly but which they could not care less about. However, I maintain that punctuation marks are interesting, and the following post will either prove or disprove that assertion.

By now, many literary people know of the interrobang, a sort of punctuational hermaphrodite that mashed the exclamation point and the question mark into a multipronged twofer. Perhaps you read about it on this blog back in 2005, when I learned of it and I exploded with interrobang-worthy levels of surprise and amazement. Or perhaps you’re just, like, super smart. In case this word interrobang is new to you, here’s the gist: Instead of lining the end marks back-to-back in the manner of “It’s full of snakes?!” you can instead conserve space by simply punctuating it “It’s full of snakes‽” (I’m unsure what’s a more shocking thing to be snake-full. Your Prius? A pinata? A womb?) The interrobang is handy enough, I say, though I’d imagine less astute readers would wonder what the hell is wrong with that capital “P.” Invented by ad man Martin K. Specktor in 1962, the interrobang actually found a certain level of mainstream acceptance, even getting a spot on certain typewriter models in 1968. Of course, it never made it to the big leagues, but I say it still has a chance. I mean, look how ubiquitous the at sign and the hash mark are today compared to how rarely we used them twenty years ago.

A funny footnote to the story of the interrobang — a story that, were it published in book form, should be titled Huh‽ Wha‽ Really‽ — is that its creation necessitated a second mark for those writing in Spanish. In this language, writers have the odd habit of giving the reader a heads up with a question or exclamation is coming. I’ve always wondered why, exactly, and why the inverted question mark or exclamation point at the beginning of a sentence stuck with Spanish and no other major language. But this is what Spanish does. Thus, if an interrobang were to be used at the end of a sentence — “Esta llena de serpientes,” for example — you’d need an upside-down one at the beginning.

And the name of this mark, by the way, is my word of the week. (Took me long enough, I know.)
gnaborretni (nab-or-RET-nee) — noun: The symbol ⸘ (an inverted superimposed exclamation point and question mark), used in place of ¡¿ in Spanish, Galician, and Leonese.
The etymology? It’s simply interrobang backwards, which seems especially clever until you realize that the gnaborretni isn’t actually a backwards interrobang so much as an upside-down one. But, you know, whatever.

May all your Spanish interrogative exclamations be stylishly punctuated.

You may be wondering why I have included a picture of an orange wearing a crown. You see, the thing is, my intended word of the week was going to be realgar, the name of a pigment once considered to be the only source of pure orange but which fell out of use because it’s horrendously poisonous. In fact, it’s also one of the main sources or arsenic. This story these once-prevalent colors that we no longer use, in combination with orange’s status as the least-beloved color in the spectrum or even colors that aren’t actually colors, like pink or magenta, seemed promising a few days ago but ended up being pretty sucky when expressed by me. But I’d already Photoshopped the orange. Thus, this: King Orange.

Apparently I think punctuation is more interesting than deadly poison.

Previous words of the week after the jump.
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