Monday, October 23, 2006

! ?

Q. Mike/NYC: "I love the use of 'slam' vocally to indicate an exclamation point. Is there a similar term for a question mark? A friend told me to use the word quirk, but that doesn’t sound right.”

A. Aside from its normal meaning (an idiosyncrasy) the Oxford English Dictionary has a couple of quirky meanings for quirk:

• A diamond-shaped piece of leather inserted at the junction of the fingers with the palm in some makes of gloves
• An irregular pane of glass

But it doesn’t refer to the question mark.

I think you’re looking for the word query: “A notation, usually a question mark, calling attention to an item in order to question its validity or accuracy.” [AHD-4]

You called the exclamation point a slam. Typesetters and printers also refer to it as a bang, a screamer, or a smash. Obviously, it’s a punctuation outburst that should be used sparingly; it’s a mark that borders on hysteria!!!!

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