I see a new combination of punctuation emerging, and demanding formal recognition. Consider an example in which the writer of an email, say, asks the recipient about possible meeting times. Some options for punctuation:
- Can we meet at any of these times: 12:30, 3:00, 4:30.
- Can we meet at any of these times? 12:30, 3:00, 4:30.
- Can we meet at any of these times: 12:30, 3:00, 4:30?
- Can we meet at any of these times?: 12:30, 3:00, 4:30.
Options 1 and 2 won’t work, as each one requires breaking grammatical form. In option 1, the writer abandons the requisite question mark; in option 2, no colon introduces the list of times, which thus becomes an incomplete sentence. Option 3 is more plausible, but the deferred question mark makes the opening interrogative clause “feel” wrong until one arrives at the end of the sentence.
Option 4, which I use often and hope will spread, accomplishes the goal of the sentence while keeping both question mark and colon in close proximity to the clauses to which they’re meant to apply.
I propose combining the two characters, ? and :, and naming the new mark the “interrolimb.”
The word follows the pattern established by the interrobang (a single character that can be used in place of !? or ?!), with a nod to the Greek roots of the word “colon”—which meant “limb” and so was also used in rhetoric to refer to clauses within sentences (just as we sometimes use “limb” to do).
As a first stab—and I’m no typographer—what do you think of these, set in Times?:
(Thanks to Christian Schwartz for inspiring the second version.)
I must protest that #3 is both correct and feels correct for anyone with an attention span long enough to read one English sentence. Alternatively, why not use the Spanish ¿ to mark the beginning of an interrogative sentence? No ambiguity there.
I don’t think it’s about attention span; it’s about reaction time. If you react more quickly than you read (as I do), then you’re more likely to feel the incorrectness in the interim.
Note that I don’t suggest #3 is incorrect. It’s just that nobody uses it, mostly (I suspect), because it feels wrong to them, too.
On Facebook, Eric had the same suggestion you did about the ¿. I’m open to that idea. Let’s let the people decide.
I think that Nathan is on the write track here. #3 works, perhaps even better if you say, “…at any of the following times…” .
While I don’t speak Spanish at all, I think that the idea of making clear that there is a question at beginning of a sentence makes a whole lot of sense. It’s a question in my mind though if it should be done with an exclamation mark except in rare instances.