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Exciting Emdashes Contest! ¿What Should We Call the Upside-Down Question Mark?

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Above: A haunting dramatization of the dilemma in question. Click to enlarge.

The other day, Pollux, our “Wavy Rule” staff cartoonist, and I were questioning some punctuation: namely, the upside-down, Spanish-style question mark. After consulting friend and lettering expert Paul Shaw—who reports that “Bringhurst just calls it an inverted question mark, no special name”—we decided it was a real scandal that this character dare not speak its name. (Parenthetically, I wonder when the nameless mark will become a standard part of the computer keyboard, especially in America, where Spanish is rápidamente becoming our dual language?) So we decided to sponsor a contest. Paul wrote everything from here on—and, of course, drew the searing cartoon above.

You’ve seen it before. It stands on the west end of elegant Castilian questions: ¿Adónde vas? ¿Cuando llegarás? ¿Quien eres tú?

Ah, the upside-down question mark! Its limited range lends this punctuation mark a certain romantic air, its elegant curve bent and shaped by the same winds that propelled caravels and galleons on treasure runs across the ocean sea, its use first legislated in 1754 by a second edition of the volume Ortografía, issued by Spain’s Royal Academy.

You can make one yourself: hold your Alt key down, hit the number-lock key, and then type the numbers “168.” [On a Mac, just type option + shift + ?. —Ed.] There, you see it? It stands nobly, and a little sadly, on your computer screen—like a single tear on the face of a father who’s walking his daughter down the aisle of a church, or like a grandee who has been reduced to complete penury but who still points to his ancient coat of arms on the wall.

A noble punctuation mark, to be sure, but deficient in one regard: it lacks a name. “Upside-down question mark” is purely descriptive. Its Spanish name is equally lacking in punch: “signo de apertura de interrogación invertido.”

Now’s your chance to make history. Name this punctuation mark. Give it a name both euphonious and appropriate. Earn everlasting glory. Win a prize—dinner for two at the Spanish, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Dominican, &c., restaurant of your choice, or, if you prefer, a beautiful copy of Pablo Neruda’s immortal The Book of Questions. Emdashes wants to hear your best ideas, so post them in the comments or, if you’re shy (as so many of you are, we know and sympathize), just email us. All entries are due by August 25, no question about it. We are very much looking forward to your submissions. At TypeCon last week, I got two impressive entries from genuine maniac typophiles; I’ll post them in the comments as soon as things get rolling. The very best of luck to you, and andale!

And if you’d like to see more drawings by Pollux, check out “The Wavy Rule” archive.


Re: Contest

How about askerisk (soon to be pronounced askerik?)

Deborah CookJuly 25, 2008

Fantastic cartoon, Paul, and I love the Book of Questions prize. ¡¿But … why not the inverted exclamation point?! ¿Why should the question mark get all the attention?

I think the spanish “signo de apertura de interrogación” is quite self-explanatory, and the translation would be “opening question mark” and “closing question mark.”

Any other name would lead to more question marks, wouldn’t it?

If anyone can read the spanish, there’s an interesting little history of the origin of the question mark and the use of the opening and closing spanish version here: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signos_de_interrogación

Apparently Chile does not use the double question marks, having resisted the monarchy’s decision to make them mandatory.

That said, if I were to name the opening question mark with an individual name, I suppose I’d suggest the quiggle or perhaps the quiggy.

Open Question mark seems logical, but if that’s not exotic enough, how about one of these…

Query sign
Open Query

Not knowing Spanish, my answer tended toward the rudimentary: let’s call it the qué.

But now, seeing Benjamin’s objection, I say we call them jointly el interrobango and call it a day.

I think it should be called a kram noitseu.

Loved Paul’s sad and melancholic characterization of the opening question mark! Specially because it represents so well the solitude of the uniqueness of our poor friend… (it is amazing that it only exists in the Spanish grammar). So, to honor its special being I propose unique question mark.

I think it should be called the i opener, since its importance has been questioned.

How about The Swinghammer?

It’s a hook, so for spanish purpose, a gancho.

My brother and I would like to suggest the following latin creations (in order of preference):


The “interro” component comes from the latin “interrogo” for question, and the “verti/verto/versum” are the latin for “to turn over,” “to turn about,” etc.

Nadine & Chris LaRocheJuly 29, 2008

I like the way Claire thinks.

I have three blue-ribbon suggestions:

• The wha. As in “Wha…?”

• Or the interro, which is half of the word “interrobang.” (And also half of the word “interrowhimper.”)

• Or the askin, as in “This punctuation mark lets you know that I’m askin’ a question.”

I couldn’t be more pleased and entertained by these awesome entries. Still more are being emailed to me by the bashful, and I’ll add the two I gathered at TypeCon. I’m loving this contest. Keep ‘em coming! ¿What do you have to lose?

I like Carolita’s quiggle. (That sounds rather naughty, doesn’t it?)

But to build on the interrobang precedent, how about interroflip?

The curioso

¿How about one of these short names?



Inq (as in inquiry, pronounced “ink”)

How about calling it the qué? mark, Spanish-style…?

Almost forgot to post the paper-based entries! Here are two inspired submissions I collected at TypeCon.

From the aforementioned Paul Shaw, who has no special advantage due to his friendship with one of the judges, but does have the special advantage of being the letterman of letters, this elegant entry that reads beautifully right side up or upside down:


And from genial and thoughtful conference-goer Sean King, two strong contributions:

1. Leading question mark
2. Open question mark (like open and closed quotes)

For such a sinuous symbol, this is stiff competition. Can you do better? There’s still time to enter! Also, many thanks to emailers D.T. and J.C. of Toronto, and G.S. of Ottowa, for their seriously viable entries; I don’t know how we’re going to choose a winner, but boy, that conversation is going to be fun.

The Canadians are running away with this competition, by the way; if you’re OK with that, no need to enter, but if you like a little north-south sparring, you’ve still got a chance in NAFTA.

A few more suggestions to slip in before the deadline:

prego - short for “pregunta” (question)

spanq (pronounced spank) - short for “Spanish question mark” - dull derivation, but fun to say

Love these!

A designer friend observes that since the haunted mark is one half of the pair known as signos de interrogación, “I guess a decent translation would be an initial translation mark…. It’s not so much that it has a name already, it’s more like it’s not really a character in and of itself — sorta like if another culture looked at our question mark and saw it as two distinctly different pieces of punctuation, a hook and a ball, and wondered why we didn’t call them different things. The answer is: because they’re never seen separately. So I guess the real answer is that it’s only half a question mark.”

That makes me want to weep—if there’s anything worse than being a shell of a man, it’s being half a question mark. All the more reason we’re glad it has so many new names—and one best new name, to be announced after the entry period has ended!

Prequestion mark

In the tradition of badabing and badaboom:

inverted spanish question mark would be : interrobing
regular spanish question mark would be: interroboom

How about calling it the splainu in honor of Ricky Ricardo?


Perhaps the quéstion mark?

Sorry: ¿Perhaps the quéstion mark?

Emily FlakeAugust 25, 2008

Here are two options:

Call it the Gordon (after you)
or call it the Clew.

From the F12 dictionary on my Mac, we learn the following definitions:

Clew: the lower or after corner of a sail; archaic variant of “clue”; (naut., plural) the cords by which a hammock is suspended; a ball of thread, “used esp. with reference to the thread supposedly used by Theseus to mark his way out of the Cretan labyrinth.” (Etym. Old English for a rounded mass or ball of thread)

The image of the hammock honors the Spanish origin. Also, the two question marks, together, could be known as the “clews”, as if—to extend the metaphor—the content of the question itself were a hammock suspended by the act of inquiry.


How about we call it what it is:

An illegal question mark that is demanding the same rights and privileges as all the hard working, honest question marks that play by the rules!

L. Dobbs (aka al in la) August 25, 2008


a “quinner”

it’s a query, and a twin to the ‘?’

work with me here….

The preguntasand.

I have four suggestions:

1. Pr0-Q

2. Pre-Q

3. Prask (pre + ask)

4. Proqué (cute misspelling of spanish for “why?”)

How about the prequery, ‘cause it’s before the question. Or maybe the Alice mark, referencing the Miss of Wonderland because it’s upside down and backward.

That’s all, folks—the contest is now closed! We’ll be making this extremely difficult decision over the next few days and announcing the winner on Friday. Thanks to everyone for your outstandingly entertaining, and often enlightening, submissions, and may the best quirk win!

Oh, and these came in by email before the deadline passed, so they’ll be included in the judging:

I think a good name is: askerix —J.C., Toronto

It’s a bit lame (and I know someone else will think of something more clever) but my entry is the “question-coming mark.” Because its function is to tell you that a question is coming up. For example “¿Donde esta?” means “Where are you?” as opposed to “Donde esta” which means “Where you are.” —G.S., Ottowa

• The invertebrae

• Questant mark (questant is a long-dead word meaning “A person or hound who quests”; I like the idea that the inverted question mark always hounds the regular one) —D.T., Toronto

Almost forgot to add this under-the-wire entry from my aunt, the writer Amy Gordon!

This is a very entertaining contest. The upside question mark does not seem sad to me, but playful and acrobatic. I suggest calling it El Lazarillo after Lazarillo de Tormes, the anti-hero of the first picaresque novel. He was a rogue and a rascal, and that’s how the shape of that punctuation mark strikes me.

I recently read the following, in a book called Story-Crafting by Paul Darcy Boles:

In 1490 the printer Aldus set up a press in Venice. He printed in Greek some of the works of Aristophanes, Demosthenes, Plutarch, Aristotle, Thucydides, Herodotus, and the then nearly contemporary writing of Dante and Erasmus. Because he used Greek punctuation forms, he’s responsible for most of the marks you’re thinking about now.

Among the symbols he transposed from Latin to Greek was one that finally became today’s question mark—a big comma over a dot.

From the droll radosh.net, we have the following entries:

From our pal, guest blogger David F.: “Spanq? Quirigram?? Interroflip??? Curioso????”

From commenter Rasselas: “Veronica.” Because “I just like that name.”

From commenter Rubrick: “Santorum.”

From commenter Theophylact: How about left query? Not as though we don’t distinguish between left quotes and right, at least in formal print.

From commenter Deborah: “The fish hook. Because it looks like a fish hook.”

And finally, from class clown TG Gibbon: “Get-bent-erisk because who are we to name the punctuation of others?”

And that really is it!

I missed the deadline, as I tend to do. But we could call this mark Hernando. Meaning journey-prepared.

I’m voting with Emily Flake—the quéstion mark. Prounounced, of course, “KAY-stion.”

Fine cartoon, Paul. I like Andalusian touch. Always have.

We’re tallying the results—and letting readers make the final choice. We’ll keep you posted, and in the meantime, don’t open any questions you can’t close!

Drum roll please…and the semifinalists have been announced. Now, rock the vote! By the way, I was delighted by every one of these entries. Looking forward to your contributions to the next contest!

Just for fun, I’m posting this email I got from my pal Chris Skinner, who wrote:

I am torn between ‘Keith’ and ‘Martin’.

Calling it Martin would have been very meta of us!

Mea culpa division:

Due mainly to some email issues I’ve been having recently, I never saw this entry. Horrors!

I nominate “questa,” which was the Latin word for “to inquire.” It is very close to the Spanish “cuesta” — also meaning “to inquire” — but has a more broadly understood orthography.

—Ozzie Maland, San Diego

I’m working out a special prize for this excellent entry. Forgive this human girl person (as Laura Dern so touchingly described herself in Rambling Rose).

If you’ve arrived here from a search for something related to the upside-down question mark—contestants, we’re way up there in the results for this phrase, which is funny—you’ll be delighted to know: the interroverti, from brother-and-sister team Nadine & Chris LaRoche, won the big prize!

How about “Initial Interrogative”?

Today, many moons after your inverted-question-mark contest a friend sent it to me. While “interroverti” is the perfect name, hands down, let me slip in an English-language suggestion: the “ask-you.” This would be appealing because it would immediately be corrupted to the AssQ.

Kathy FollettMarch 17, 2009

ʞɹɐɯ uoıʇsǝnb

or, “Mark Question”, for short

How about the “S’up?” for the inverted question mark…

and the “Dude!” for the inverted exclamation point…

Today’s population being….well….what it is…it’s important not to assign anything a name that Bill or Ted would have a hard time remembering.

the fénagle. pronounced FA-NAUGE-ELL

It’s not that it has NO name.

In Spanish, the punctuation marks go in PAIRS.

The same goes for the exclamation mark: one at the beginning of the sentence, another at the end.

Zoia ChurilovApril 30, 2011

I think we have to call it opening question mark as in opening and closing quotation marks.

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