Wow, really‽ Who knew‽

1957 | Third period Senior English | Mount Vernon High School | Marguerite Mann

Miss Mann was a stickler for every dash, period, comma, bracket, dangling participle and misplaced adverb. She hated run-on sentences, misuses of tense, wordiness, excessive use of exclamation points, prepositions at sentence-end, and misplaced quotation marks.

“One exclamation point or question mark is quite enough, class,” she’d say through clenched teeth, her trademark glare pronounced. “In formal writing we never use more than one mark.” Her shoulders arched toward her ears like tectonic plates and her shudder could have been the first rumblings of an earthquake. She viewed multiples of exclamation points and question marks, or worst of all, a question mark and an exclamation point together, as only slightly less awful than sticking an apostrophe in i-t-s — it’s — in a misguided attempt to show possessive.

When she recommended that we college-bound seniors buy our textbook, McGraw-Hill Handbook of English, we did . Mine is beside me right now. It went to college with me and to all the desks I worked at over the years. I’ve been retired long since, but my tattered textbook is still on the job.


Five years after the class of ’57 graduated and ten years before Miss Mann’s passing, advertising executive Martin Speckter invented a new punctuation mark — the interrabang. It has a lot of different looks depending on the typeface it is associated with ahem…with which it is associated.

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Selection of interrabangs.

The interrabang (also interobang) is the brilliant, blended marriage of exclamation point and question mark. Had I known such a thing existed I could have used an interrabang many times, despite what Miss Mann might holler from her grave.

Speckter headed his own Madison Avenue agency. Frustrated with the growing tendency of his copywriters to pair exclamation mark and question mark to punch-up a surprised or rhetorical question — “Who would punctuate a sentence like that?!” — Speckter saw a need for a single punctuation mark to replace the annoying !? construction. He wrote:

To this day, we don’t know exactly what Columbus had in mind when he shouted ‘Land, ho.’ Most historians insist…he cried, ‘Land, ho!’ but…others…claim it was really ‘Land ho?’ Chances are [Columbus] was both excited and doubtful, but…at that time [there was no punctuation to] … combine and meld interrogation with exclamation.

Art director Jack Lipton did a set of speculative designs, below, for his boss. Speckter called the offspring exclamaquests or interrobangs.

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Courtesy Penny Speckter

The clever coupling of the two into a single character solves many punctuation issues. What’s not to love? Sadly, the mark never really caught on, but if you’d like to use one and if you use Microsoft Word, select the Wingdings 2 font and type the right bracket, ]. There you go — ‽

And, if you’re a WordPress blogger, type & # 8 2 5 3 ; (no spaces) and, voila, an interrabang  for your post.

Confucius say what?!

Screen shot 2015-01-08 at 2.36.56 PMFor more than twenty years I believed that our dear English friend Louie came up with the phrase “Wherever you go, there you are.” I’ve learned that not only did Confucius say it, but dozens of writers use it as titles on their blogs, and mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote a book with Confucius’ words as the title. It has been centuries since Confucius (551-479 BCE) made that astute observation, so plagarism isn’t an issue.

I learned all this in the most roundabout way. I requested permission to quote from Kevin O’Keefe’s “Real Lawyers Have Blogs” post, “Blog to people, not at people.”  His words about blogging resonated: “I was taught to blog as if it were a conversation. … At times I have thought of blogging as letter writing. The kind we did by hand from college forty years ago. At other times, I have thought of blogging as being the late night DJ talking to a radio audience of one. … Blogging is about getting to know each other. Developing trust. Developing relationships. Developing reputations. This requires a conversation. Writing to people, not at people.”

O’Keefe referred me to author and business consultant Euan Semple, “The Obvious,” who approved my request to use his thoughts about good writing: “Good writing is more like letter writing. It is written to you not at you. It draws you closer, is offered to you deferentially, like two people who know and trust each other having a conversation, taking turns, listening as much as talking. It is our natural way of writing. …”

Semple referred me to John Kabat-Zinn  I didn’t know — duh-h — until I Googled the mindfulness guru about the book he’d written in 1994, “Wherever you go, there you are.” It’s still in print and I’ll have a copy for myself before another sunset. Here’s one of many memorable quotes: “Wherever you go, there you are. Whatever you wind up doing, that’s what you’ve wound up doing. Whatever you are thinking right now, that’s what’s on your mind, Whatever has happened to you, it has already happened. The important question is, how are you going to handle it?”

Kabat-Zinn, the father of modern-day mindfulness, further defines the practice like this: “Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” He also says, “Writing can be an incredible mindfulness practice.”

Ooo, I like that!

Old Confucius offered another twist on the words so many of us use: “Wherever you go, go with all of your heart.”

Like that, too. Maybe it explains my absolute obsession love affair with blogging.Screen shot 2015-01-13 at 2.11.12 PM

Post postscript:
No sooner did I decide I’d polished this post enough,
than I got a surprise.
At our recent writers’ group meeting,
writer/friend John handed me a book.
“Look what I found!” he said.
It was a copy of Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever you go, there you are.
My friend didn’t know I’d been planning this post
nor that I wanted a copy of the book.