¡gnaborretni? – Reblog from Shady Characters

Very pleased to see that the question/comment I sent to Keith Houston, the author of the excellent Shady Characters book.

Here is the entry in his blog (the original is here):

Miscellany № 42: ¡gnaborretni?


Photo by Alasdair Gillon.

A interrobang writ in wine? (Photo courtesy of Alasdair Gillon.)

Happy new year! Are you ready for a hair of the dog? Earlier this month, Dr Jesús Rogel-Salazar, a physicist with interests in quantum mechanics, ultra cold matter, nonlinear optics, computational physics — and punctuation, as it turns out — got in touch on Twitter to ask:

Any idea if inverted interrobangs are/were in use, or are still people using the ¡combination?/¿combination!

Dr Rogel-Salazar didn’t say so explicitly, but I understood his question to refer to the use of punctuation in Spanish, where questions and exclamations are book-ended by normal and rotated marks, like ¿this? and ¡this!

The interrobang, of course, is this mark, ‘‽’, the single-character union of ‘?’ and ‘!’ invented by Martin K. Speckter back in 1962. Since then, however, “interrobang” has also passed into (relatively) common usage to refer to the use of both marks at the end of a sentence, thus: ‘?!’ or ‘!?’.

Now there is technically an inverted interrobang intended for use in Spanish and culturally-related languages such as Catalan and Galician. (Assuming that your browser can display it, it looks like this: ‘⸘’.) As far as I know, the “gnaborretni”, as it is called, is a purely theoretical mark; while the interrobang occasionally surfaces in public (notably in an opinion of the Court of Appeals), I don’t recall ever having come across a gnaborretni. I passed Dr Rogel-Salazar’s query on to Alasdair Gillon, a friend of mine who lives and works in Spain, to see if he could shed some light on it. Here is his reply:

I have never seen the ¿combination! Not anywhere. I may have seen ¡¿this?! once or twice.

Actually, especially in social networking, the upside down marks are disappearing altogether, and people are just going with the rest of the world. You never see it in WhatsApp, SMS or Facebook messages, etc.

I have definitely never seen the inverted interrobang. In fact, I would say I’ve never seen an upright one in Spain, except perhaps for this advert for wine [top right], which caught my eye in Barcelona recently and made me think of you. What else could it be?

What else indeed?

So, have any Shady Characters readers come across the gnaborretni, in either its pure (⸘) or debased forms (¡¿)? Is Spanish losing the pleasing rotational symmetry of its questions and exclamations?


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