THE QUESTION MARK
Once it was proposed the question mark be declared obsolete. What purpose did it serve anymore was the common objection to the question mark’s continued use in an age that increasingly got by very well with only the period and the exclamation point—the exclamation point above all else. If the comma, the semicolon, and the colon were on the way out themselves, appendix-like oddities that fewer and fewer could either explain or find a use for in the new climate of expression, where ideas that required more than a simple phrase, to say nothing of subordinate clauses or compound meanings, were being crowded out by language seemingly intended to convince through blunt-force trauma to the reader or listener, even the period was in trouble, saved only by the fact that at some point in their verbal overkill, people had to take a deep breath if they weren’t to pass out from lack of oxygen and/or thought. But the exclamation point, now there was punctuation up to the demands of the day! With everyone, top to bottom and left to right, determined to dominate all comers and any exchange being only words away from an explosion of abuse, forgoing the exclamation point was a sure sign of less-than-robust conviction. To some, such force in punctuation was almost a measure of their linguistic vigor and among these, the flaccid question mark looked like the very symbol of impotence. Others believed simply repeating the brawny word “robust” as often as possible and in as many contexts as possible would have the same effect as an exclamation point, but still others objected emphatically that such a tactic would prove unworkable in cases where two, three, or four exclamation points were already the method of choice for stressing the importance of what they wanted to say when the words alone failed to impress. Only in high-level diplomacy and statecraft could you expect to be taken seriously as a forceful thinker on the basis of how many times you managed to repeat “robust” in a single declarative sentence. Otherwise, the notion merited little more than a smile among those who understood these matters. No, the exclamation point was here to stay as the only sure means of demonstrating one was right about absolutely everything, from personal taste to political policy and religious conviction. When the intent was to avoid betraying the slightest doubt amid the swirl of conflicting certainties, nothing else could serve the purpose half so well. Doubt, in the end, was the very reason the question mark had to go. Any admission that you didn’t already know as much as you ever needed to, that what was certain yesterday might not be so clear today and even less so tomorrow, that dark enigmas might form as much of our own inner workings as those of the cosmos at large, that without constant reinquiry eternal truths themselves may wither and die—any admission of these possibilities was a sign of weakness to be avoided at all costs. Once doubt and questioning began, where would they stop? With so much at stake, wasn’t it prudent to hold the line on what should not be questioned and proceed in full confidence from there? Without plenty of exclamation points as a guide, how could you be certain where that line started or where it ended? How could you be certain where you stood on anything?!
Copyright © 2008 by Geoffrey Grosshans