Three things you didn’t know about the question mark

Where would we be without the ability to ask questions? Whether rhetorical (like that one) or specific requests for information or responses, we would be a very boring and ignorant species if we never questioned anything.

When talking, we can use intonation to make it clear that what we’re saying is a question. In writing, however, we need to find a way to differentiate “you can write well” from “you can write well?” The way we do this is through the use of the question mark.

As today is National Punctuation Day, let’s take a closer look at the most inquisitive of all glyphs and explore some of its lesser known attributes.

1. Its origin is mysterious

Ironically for a symbol associated with the unknown, we cannot be entirely sure how the question mark came to look like it does. It began as a stroke from right to left, but started to become curved over time, gradually leading to the shape we recognise today.

Some scholars also believe it may derive from the Latin word ‘quaestiō’ (question), abbreviated to ‘qo’. It doesn’t take too big a stretch of the imagination to imagine the curve and dot of a question mark to resemble a lower case ‘q’ and ‘o’ respectively.

2. Some languages have them upside-down

In Spanish, it’s deemed necessary to identify where a question begins as well as where it ends. This is done with an inverted question mark at the beginning, as in “¿como te llamas?” (what is your name?). The inverted question mark is also used in Catalan, although not as uniformly.

3. It appears in the names of bands

Rock bands like Therapy? and Delirious? have long made their fans wonder whether they should change their intonation every time they talk about them. Their names can also create some real punctuation oddness when asking questions like “do you like Therapy??”

Punctuation is a vital component of clear and high-quality writing, and it’s featured in two of our courses. The Business Blogging for Beginners and Freelance Writing for Businesses diploma courses are both currently available at discount prices, so (to finish on a question mark) why not check them out?

John Murray

Content Team Leader at Engage Web

Latest posts by John Murray (see all)

Categories: Words and Language

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