Things have been quiet lately on the interrobang front. Well, no longer. Take a look at this:
That is an interrobang and a half, I’m sure you’ll agree.
So, some context. Pearson is a global publishing and education company with fingers in many pies — schools, higher education, professional development, and traditional publishing via imprints such as Addison Wesley and Shady Characters’s own Penguin Books — that until recently possessed only the blandest of corporate logos.* In 2015, however, they decided to come up with a new identity. As Brand New reported, quoting from the press release that accompanied the rebranding exercise:
[Pearson wants to] transition from educational print publisher to a digital and services-led learning business. The ambition behind the new brand is to unify Pearson’s broad and diverse portfolio of products and services under one strong master brand; distinguish Pearson from its competition; drive global awareness and favourability, and serve as an important anchor for its employees around the world.
If you’re playing buzzword bingo, congratulations! You’ve hit the jackpot.
Jargon aside, the symbol that Pearson chose to represent its new, digital self is the interrobang, Martin K. Speckter’s inimitable mark of interrogation, consternation and excitement. Readers of Shady Characters will know the story of the interrobang’s genesis inside out, but Pearson’s press release recapitulates the basic idea for those less well versed in the world of unusual punctuation:
Combining a question mark with an exclamation mark, and encapsulated in a thumbprint, the logo represents the combination of excitement, curiosity and individuality that’s at the heart of Pearson’s approach to learning.
Aside from the underlying armature of the interrobang, the mark appears to have been created from scratch — certainly, I don’t recognise any particular donor typeface — and the blue “thumbprint” is allegedly intended to add a human touch to proceedings.† On balance, I think they’ve done a creditable job in preserving the character of the ‘‽’ while letting the reader/viewer know at the same time that this is a proprietary mark.
What now, then, for the interrobang? The one thing that niggles at me about all this (as first suggested by reader Bracken M on Twitter) is the idea that Speckter’s mark might come to be associated chiefly with Pearson rather than being acknowledged as a mark in its own right. And yet, my fervent hope is that its adoption as the logo of a major corporation will kick-start a wave of interest in the ‘‽’. Only time will tell.
Elsewhere, Wired published a very pleasing little slideshow of typographers’ favourite letterforms. Of course, the spectrum of printable characters being what it is, fully one-third of the fifteen typographers interviewed for the piece made distinctly leftfield choices: Peter Bil’ak chose the capital ‘Æ’ ligature; Sara Soskolne plumped for the double-S of the German eszett, or ‘ß’; and Jonathen Hoefler, Sophie Elinor Brown, and Michael Doret all chose the redoubtable ampersand, or ‘&’.
But then, all three amperfans have previous, as they say.
Jonathan Hoefler wrote about the ampersand back in 2008, noting that it was the middle name of his company Hoefler & Frere-Jones (now Hoefler & Co); Sophie Elinor Brown once created a whole bevy of ampersands she dubbed “the amperclan”; and Michael Doret’s company is called, simply, Ampersand Soup Type Founders. Whatever the interrobang’s fate in the long term, the ampersand looks likely to live on a(n)d infinitum.
Lastly, while listening to Slate’s excellent Lexicon Valley podcast the other week, I was happy to hear some air time devoted to Oxford Dictionaries’ selection of the “face with tears of joy” emoji, or 😂, as “word” of the year for 2015. Why this symbol rather than a word, or even a mark of punctuation? As explained at the Oxford Dictionaries blog,
This year Oxford University Press have partnered with leading mobile technology business SwiftKey to explore frequency and usage statistics for some of the most popular emoji across the world, and 😂 was chosen because it was the most used emoji globally in 2015. SwiftKey identified that 😂 made up 20% of all the emojis used in the UK in 2015, and 17% of those in the US: a sharp rise from 4% and 9% respectively in 2014.
Granted, this is all rather academic in the absence of statistics about the use of emoji in comparison to words and/or marks of punctuation, but to make up 20% of all emoji used in the UK is quite a feat. In terms of my slightly rickety Zipf’s Law analysis of punctuation, “face with tears of joy” is the comma, sitting at the top of the pile. It may be neither a word nor a mark of punctuation, but it’s a worthy winner all the same.