Here is my candidate for a new punctuation mark:


The Interrocolon

Does the name sound mildly proctological? Yes—that’s part of its charm. Does the world need this? No. Regardless, there is a situation that comes up quite often where the conventional menu of marks seems somehow lacking: when the direct object of an interrogative statement references an example, a URL or another statement in a follow-on block of text. This is especially true when using text messaging, but comes up in technical documents, etc. In the following statement, for example, the direct object “this” would seem to be the focus of the question:

question mark

Actually though, it could very well be in reference to the next statement, which may not even be present—text messaging being the most obvious example. A colon would draw attention to the fact that there is follow-on text; replacing the question mark with a colon makes the question implied but seems somehow less forceful. Using a colon after the question mark better reflects what is desired, but this is generally frowned upon:

colon and question mark

None of these possibilities have ever seemed right to me. I’ve always itched for something else to turn to. What we really want here is a combination of a question mark and a colon, that is, an interrocolon. The name is of course derivative of the otherwise loathsome interrobang.

What should this mark look like? The question mark and colon can’t be combined effectively as was attempted (poorly) with the interrobang. One possibility would be to revive the progenitor of the question mark itself, the medieval punctus interrogativus1,2:

punctus interrogativus

Another possibility is to use a comma in place of the dot in a question mark, let’s call it an “interrocomma”:

The comma however generally separates dependent clauses, but here we are demarcating completely independent sentences. I would suggest then using the punctus interrogativus with a full colon:
This would have the same typographical height as a question mark. With the interrogativus looking much like a question mark itself, the combination has the desired effect of posing a question while directing attention to any follow-on text.

1The punctus interrogativus here was produced using the font Andron, which implements the proposed medieval font extensions to Unicode defined here.

2An example of this mark can be seen here:


From: M. B. Parkes. Pause and Effect: Punctuation in the West. 1993.

» Posted: Saturday, March 8, 2008 | Comments (1) | Permanent Link


Lovely idea and beautiful typography!

» Posted by Craig Conley on August 18, 2008 03:40 PM