The 20th Century gave us many things...the washing machine, the computer, the Post-It Note. Unfortunately many innovations, such as the interrobang mark, were not so successful.
In 1962, Martin K Speckter, head of a New York advertising agency, called to notice the lack of single punctuation to convey a rhetorical question. The cumbersome and slightly ugly combination in use was, and still is '!?' as in:
You didn't think I'd stick sheep ears up my nose did you!?
In TYPEtalks Magazine(published by ATA), Speckter proposed a new piece of punctuation dubbed the 'interrobang'. This would combine the question mark and exclamation mark in a neat solution. In America, a question mark is often called an interrogation point, from the Latin for query, 'Interrogatio'. Speckter combined this with the slang term for an exclamation mark, used by typesetters, 'Bang'.
TYPEtalks Magazine appealed for graphic designs for this new punctuational wonder, and received pieces from far and wide. Finally a shape was decided upon showing the question mark with a vertical line through it.
The new mark gained publicity in newspapers and magazines, including The Wall Street Journal:
This punctuation mark is precisely correct for 'Who forgot to put gas in the car?' where the question mark alone just isn't adequate. The interrobang conveys in print an attitude, curiosity, and wonder.
Editorial, Wall Street Journal, 1962
Almost immediately the concept was snatched up and the interrobang began to appear in print everywhere. Because it wasn't available as a typeset, lettering artists were forced to draw the new character or construct a new type with razor blades and rubber cement. Speckter appeared on television promoting his invention, whilst major magazines and newspapers were filled with articles on the new punctuation wonder.
In 1966 American Type Founders brought out a metal typeface called 'Americana' which included the interrobang. Remington Rand followed with the interrobang as an option on their 1968 typewriter. The company remarked that the interrobang 'expresses modern life's incredibility'. During the 1970s it was possible to buy replacement interrobang keycaps and strikers for several Smith-Corona typewriters.
Unfortunately for Speckter, the interrobang failed to break into the wider punctuation world. It was very popular for much of the 1960s, often appearing in the press, for whom, after all, it has been designed. It also featured in some dictionaries. But despite its brief flurry of popularity it soon sank into oblivion along with Esperanto and the Sinclair C5.
The mark hasn't vanished entirely however. Admittedly most fonts don't include it, but you can still find it in Microsoft's Wingdings 2 character set for Microsoft Office. It is also available in the fonts Lucida Sans Unicode, Arial Unicode MS, and Unicode itself. However you are unlikely to find it in your day-to-day life.
Recent sightings of the interrobang have included Michael Gerber's Barry Trotter books1, in which Barry's scar is in the shape of an interrobang.
Interestingly, a reverse and upside down interrobang (a combination of ¿ and ¡) can be used along with the regular interrobang in Spanish phrases, and is called by some, a gnaborretni (interrobang backwards). One can only imagine how unpopular the poor interrobang must be in Spain!
It is a shame that this piece of punctuation has been lost to the depths of the 'nice idea at the time' records, but you could hardly expect otherwise could you?!