Pet Peeve #61: Using Two or Three Question Marks

questions marksI’ll start with a caveat: I’m probably more sensitive to this pet peeve than the average person. I spend a few hours every day on social media, forums, and e-mail answering questions. I try to reply to every question as quickly as possible.

The vast majority of these questions end with the standard single question mark. Which, let’s be honest, is all you need.

One question mark might even be more than enough. In Japanese, there is no such thing as a question mark. If you end a sentence with a certain letter (ka), the sentence turns into a question. When you’re speaking with someone, you often leave out that character and simply make up for it with your inflection.

Maximum of one question mark, right? So why does anyone ever end a sentence with more than one?

Here’s my theory:

  • The second question mark implies incredulity. As in, “Are you sure you saw a werewolf kissing a stray cat??”
  • The third question mark implies urgency. As in, “It’s been over 3 days now. Why haven’t you picked me up from the Istanbul airport???”

In those situations, I can understand the use of the second or third question mark. But only in those situations. If you start adding question marks all wily-nily, you sound super aggressive, as the above rules still apply. You sound incredulous about things that require no incredulity or urgent about things without urgency.

But, like I said, I’m probably more sensitive to this than the average person. What do you think???

12 thoughts on “Pet Peeve #61: Using Two or Three Question Marks”

  1. I seem to recall you’ve written about this pet peeve in a previous blog post???

    I remember because that was the first time I’ve ever commented on your blog.

    Or am I going insane?! Help me!!2!

  2. The nuance of communication via pure text is sort of beautiful, don’t you think? In the English language you have something like 40 characters to work with and in that, you must convey sarcasm, love, disdain, aggression, passion and so much more. It’s like watching a language develop before our very eyes. With these 40 characters we must replace body language, tone, inflection… it’s so easy to faux pas unintentionally. Do we even know if text has colloquial context? How do we define colloquial in the virtual world? How do we assert context across so many cultures and value sets?

    What a great post! Two extra ascii characters that illicit so much meaning or lack thereof.

    This makes me realize that our communication online is not to be taken lightly. It’s not as ephemeral as we think and I’m left wondering how much more we can improve our selves by communicating better.

    Thanks again, Jamey for a fun post, but a challenging one. I have to confess… I over use the ellipsis…

    Did you ever figure out the mystery poo in the hallway???

    • Dave: So many good questions! I hope they’re rhetorical, because I don’t know the answers. 🙂 I agree with your point about communication.

      The mystery poo remains a mystery. Fortunately it hasn’t happened again.


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