March 9, 2016

I find that I've stopped using question marks.

What's the point of question marks. We understand questions from the order of the words alone, and when there are ambiguous sequences — like "How ugly is he" — we tend to know what we're looking at or can figure it out, just as we can figure out when we are dealing with irony or with a rhetorical question. Proposals for an irony mark — and a rhetorical question mark[?] —have little traction. I think the drift is in the opposite direction, at least in my experience, as I am continually rereading my writing and finding questions without question marks. 

What do you think.
 
pollcode.com free polls

ADDED: This post should have been titled "Questioning question marks."

61 comments:

Paco Wové said...

And yet, when I listen to English as it is spoken? Especially by the young? It seems like there are like, question marks? Scattered randomly throughout the discourse. Maybe question marks should simply denote Valley Girl-speak?

CStanley said...

I don't know why but I hate this idea. I've noticed people tend to leave off the question mark when texting (and I'm always disappointed that the voice text function on iPhone can't pick up vocal inflection to add the question mark.)

I think part of my problem with it is that when I read, the voice in my head gets the inflection wrong when the question mark isn't there and it annoys me.

tim maguire said...

I'm not seeing much controversy around the question mark, and I don't see any need for controversy either. It's fine the way it is.

Unknown said...

Might it be you've just recognized that you have a problem and should work to correct it?

Nonapod said...

I think we should strive to keep question marks in their proper place. I hate when I forget question marks in my posts or texts. I also hate when let a misspelling or grammatical error slip through (which I do too often). I understand that posting and texting is about as informal as writing gets, but I like having standards.

Nonapod said...

I also hate when I let a misspelling or grammatical error slip through (which I do too often).

Man, I suck.

tim in vermont said...

ADDED: This post should have been titled "Questioning question marks."

Althouse indulges in carriage wit.

As for an irony marker, what would be the point? Isn't the whole point of using irony to wink at the people who share your assumptions and to laugh at the people who don't? "X don't have any sense of irony" is just another way of saying "X doesn't believe the same things we do." It can be funny to say "that's a joke, son." once in a while, but as a point of punctuation? Not so much.

Owen said...

Agree with all comments. This is a non-issue, although the up-talkers may be creating? A new kind of conversational tone? Where nothing is settled or certain? And the discourse is really a way of checking on each other's feelings?

Michael K said...

"Maybe question marks should simply denote Valley Girl-speak?"

Valley Girl Speak is mostly question marks.

The British, always add a short statement to a question. Or a question to a statement.

Spanish has twice as many question marks. One in front upside down.

Bob Ellison said...

Where's the bathroom?

The BubFather said...

Valley Girl speak is also called 'up talking.' I spend more time than I care to admit around consultants and investment bankers and they do the same thing. It is annoying.

madAsHell said...

???

EDH said...

I disagree with what you say, but I do not question your right to say it?

madAsHell said...

oh...and don't forget !?!?!?!?

rehajm said...

When you speak to an Irishman everything's a question?

Abdul Abulbul Amir said...

Word order is helpful to some. The question mark at the end is 100% unambiguous. It is particularly helpful to those persons where English is a second language and their mother tongue used a different word order. Please be considerate of those folks and keep the question mark.

Terry said...

End the draft!
End the draft?

Triangle Man said...

I wonder if others find themselves using question marks for sentences that are clearly statements but seek a response?

John Henry said...

I was always sad that the interrobang never gained traction.


John Henry

Mrs Whatsit said...

Why on earth impoverish the language by removing a tool that both clarifies meaning and adds rhythm and inflection to the sounds we hear in our heads as we read?

To illustrate my point:

Why on earth impoverish the language by removing a tool that both clarifies meaning and adds rhythm and inflection to the sounds we hear in our heads as we read.

If you WANT your writing to be like the second sentence -- flat, pedantic, weirdly sarcastic in affect even when sarcasm wasn't what the writer intended, and unrelated to the actual rhythms and sounds of spoken language -- by all means, eliminate the question mark.

John Henry said...

A koala bear walks into a bar and eats a hamburger. He then shoots the waitress and walks out.

When questioned later, she said: "I'm a koala bear. Look it up. In the dictionary it says "eats shoots and leaves"

From an excellent book on punctuation "Eats shoots and leaves" by Lynne Truss

Buy it through Ann's portal.

John Henry

rehajm said...

Spanish speakers are masters. Warn me first, then remind me again at the end in case I forgot.

Clyde said...

I question the timing.

Paddy O said...

It's a little known fact that the use of questions marks is related to our sense of smell.

buwaya puti said...

It's done right in Spanish, signalling a question before it begins. This puts the writer in a frame of writing a specific, precise question, not some ramble that maybe, sort of turns into one.

Terry said...

I've been trying to increase my reading speed of a foreign language, so I've been looking at how I read.
I always though that I read the words completely in order from L to R, but this isn't quite true.
I first scan up to the first comma or conjunction word, mentally mark the place function of the shorter words that serve as dividers and signalers ('a', 'the', 'if', etc), and only then do I scan whole words from L to R.
No question marks would slow me down.

MadisonMan said...

Valley Girl speak is also called 'up talking.' I spend more time than I care to admit around consultants and investment bankers and they do the same thing. It is annoying.

It's beyond annoying -- it's confusing. When I evaluate student presentations at the Annual National Meeting I go to, I will routinely comment negatively on uptalking, asking if their inflection means they're asking a question or if they're uncertain -- because that's what it sounds like. If it's neither, they've failed and worse, they have their audience thinking about that rather than concentrating on the point they're trying to make.

Women are more likely to do this, in my experience.

Tank said...

anothercoupleofyearsoftextingandtweetingandpunctuationwillbedead

Bob Ellison said...

How do you write Spanish in Arabic? Do you start first with the upside-up question mark and finish with the upside-down one?

tim in vermont said...

I think I might start using the irony markers, but only ironically⸮

Bob Ellison said...

In Russian, they don't use articles. "Move chair" causes quite the ruckus at the dinner table.

clint said...

You don't like question marks?

traditionalguy said...

First they banned Query, and now they want to abandon the friendliest and cutest little punctuation of them all. It's enough to make one use ALL CAPS ALL OF THE TIME.

Big Mike said...

Not to be snarky or anything, but I find that when I accidentally use an ordinary period instead of a proper question mark, it's because of I didn't careful proof read my comment before posting.

John Henry said...

Blogger rehajm said...
Spanish speakers are masters. Warn me first, then remind me again at the end in case I forgot.

¿Que?

John Henry

Ann Althouse said...

I'm just reacting to observing my own tendency not to use question marks, but actually I think I am attentive to question marks when I'm relying on the question form as a way of getting out ideas that I don't really want pinned on me.

Curtiss said...

I'm reminded of this:

https://youtu.be/R7uC5m-IRns

John Tuffnell said...

What.

Does this make sense.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

isaywegetridofallpunctuationmarkscapitalizationandspacesthatwouldsavealotofpaper

Ignorance is Bliss said...

wcldvngtrdfvwls

Fred Drinkwater said...

Do not write to be understood. Write so that you will not be misunderstood.
OK?

John Tuffnell said...

Maybe this aversion to the question mark in written communication is a function of teaching using the Socratic method when you are constantly asking questions in oral communication. Your students clearly interpret the oral exchange as you questioning them. Typically you know the answer but are teasing out the thought process required to get to your students to understand what the answer is, or at least to recognize the pathways toward understanding.

But the written word is a different type of knowledge exchange. Perhaps you are more the preacher rather than teacher when communicating in written form and do not feel the need to pretend not to know what you are discussing.

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hazy Dave said...

So, I was thinking about what you said? And I like hit Ctrl-F to see if anyone mentioned uptalk? But I mistyped it as 'uptsalk' so there weren't any hits? So, my question is, would Upstalk be a good name for my band, or not. I think I'm Not A Robot is already taken, but it's hard to tell?

ddh said...

Lacking a question mark, written Japanese uses various particles at the end of sentences to indicate questions--the most common is "ka"--and the full stop "。" as punctuation . Thus, you would write "そうか。" (Sou ka? Is that so?)" and answer "そう。" (Sou. It is.)

While Japanese has a logical reason not to need question marks, what reason would English have?

Wilbur said...

Yet another issue to be resolved by President Trump.

rhhardin said...

I leave question marks off questions that make a point.

Gabriel said...

Well, written language once did not have punctuation or even spacing (or vowels, for that matter).

In those days literacy was very rare. Like classical Chinese, the written words were more of a mnemonic device to help you remember the text, and they were not themselves the entire text.

Adding punctuation and spacing makes it easier for people to read a text without already knowing it. Yes, we can get by without question marks, we once got by with much less than that.

If you don't like them you don't have to use them.

Wen said...

???

Szoszolo said...

Sure, that's what I need -- more ambiguity in trial transcripts.

Q. You didn't go to her house that night, did you?

A. I didn't. [Confirmation: Right, I did not go to her house that night.]

Q. You didn't go to her house that night, did you?

A. I didn't? [Skepticism: The hell I didn't. Alternatively: Are you asking me or telling me, counselor?]

It still has a use.

chris1025 said...

If nothing else, keep them for non-native speakers. As someone who reads a lot in another language, I can tell you that clearly and consistently used textual markers are a BIG help to people who are maybe not 100% sure about context clues.

ObeliskToucher said...

A brilliant idea‽

Char Char Binks said...

So many people use them where they shouldn't, so I wonder if that's a good idea?

campy said...

Those of us who already know everything don't need to ask questions.

John A said...

While they are sometimes implied and, so, not necessary they are certainly useful - right? But then, I not only distinguish between the colon and the semicolon, but probably over-use the ellipsis...

campy said...

When question marks are outlawed, only outlaws will Question Authority.

Char Char Binks said...

@John Henry

I think we should adopt the Spanish usage. It's very helpful, especially when a question is continued on the next page. That way I don't have abruptly upspeak on the last syllable, whether out loud, or silently in my head.

Michael said...

And "How ugly is he(?)" is just a cowardly way of saying "How ugly he is." You want to make the point but put the onus on the hearer, or maybe elicit an opinion that matches your own (but letting you can back-pedal if you don't get it.)

John Henry said...

Blogger ObeliskToucher said...

A brilliant idea‽

How did you do the interrobang? I was looking for the ASCII code earlier and could not find it.

John Henry

Jonathan Graehl said...

Aren't question marks are a young man's game.

cyrus83 said...

Question marks are like turn signals - they are there for the benefit of clarifying intent to the reader. They can be omitted most of the time however by rephrasing a question so that it is instead an imperative directed at the reader (I was advised long ago at work to always write e-mails in such a way as to tell the recipient what I wanted, not ask them what I wanted). E.g.:

"What is the weather forecast today?" ==> "Tell me today's weather forecast."

"Coffee or tea?" ==> "You have the choice of coffee or tea."

"Do you have any questions?" ==> "Please let me know if you have any questions."