New punctuation suggested, then patented

Ha! Here’s a good joke: Joi Ito posts that someone has come up with two new punctuation marks, then tried to patent them!

The new marks are a question mark with a comma-like symbol replacing the usual dot. The other is – you guessed it – a similarly deformed exclamation mark.

Here’s what IP Updates, the site that originally reported the patent application, quotes as the patent’s abstract:

Using two new punctuation marks, the question comma and the exclamation comma: and respectively, inquisitiveness and exclamation may be expressed within a written sentence structure, so that thoughts may be more easily and clearly conveyed to readers. The new punctuation marks are for use within a written sentence between words as a comma, but with more feeling or inquisitiveness. This affords an author greater choice of method of punctuating, e.g., to reflect spoken language more closely. Moreover, the new punctuation fits rather neatly into the scheme of things, simply filling a gap, with a little or no explanation needed.”

As an aside, I suggest that, before inventing new punctuation marks, people learn to use the punctuation we already have! What the hell is that colon doing in the first sentence?

It’s not that I don’t love the evolution of language. However, I believe this sort of thing has more to do with vanity than filling a gap so far unnoticed by the rest of the English speaking world. Everyone wants to be remembered for something; pre-ordering a gravestone with “He gave the world two new punctuation marks” would probably give some people an ego boost.

Every day, I begin sentences that stumble, then crash into a horrible mess of ideas. My solution is to step back, reconsider what I want to communicate and then divide it up into clause-sized chunks. Lazier writers would love two marks that offer them permission to litter their writing with the constant shifting of spontaneous, conversational English. This is the written equivalent of uptalk; as perfectly exemplified by Alyson Hannigan‘s character in American Pie, “And this one time, and band camp…”.

I cannot think of any situation in which either of these two punctuation marks would help written communication. Please use this blog’s comments to prove me wrong.

Now, if the – I cringe to write the names – question comma and, ugh, exclamation comma are to be taken seriously, why patent them? The reasons why this would never generate any income are too numerous and obvious to bother listing here. So, it must be back to the old ego thing: why invent two new punctuation marks unless you can show the world it was you? All seems very primary school to me.

Also see interrobang.