What’s a ‘questolon’?; we’re glad you asked

Five centuries after quotation marks emerged, it’s time for another new form of punctuation.

If you think about the tools we use to write, it’s like a family.

You have your sexy sisters and brothers we call “words.” The often pretentious yet sometimes humble aunts and uncles we call “sentences.” Our recently hatched illegitimate children called “emoticons.” And last, the humble, unassuming and hard-working cousins that are “punctuation.”

We’re constantly adding siblings to our dictionaries: BFF, OMG, LOL, unfriend, bloggable, sexting. And emoticons enable you to express such feelings as delight, anger, embarrassment, innocence and disapproval.

But when was the last time we added a punctuation mark? Based on my research, quotation marks are the most recent addition. Typesetters in the mid-16 th century began using them, but they weren’t widely used until the 17th century. Huh?

In Spring 2009, my writing students and I at the University of Illinois came to a conclusion: We needed a new punctuation element. Sometimes you need a pause between a question and another related statement.

Thus, the questolon was born.

My student, Michael Martin, suggested another name at first: colonquest. But I thought that sounded like a colonoscopy documentary.

Graphically, the questolon is the combination of two different punctuation marks—a question mark and a semicolon. Get it(questolon) it’s the top of a question mark and the bottom of a semicolon.

Here are a few more examples:

“Why don’t you just send them an email(questolon) then they can reply to you.”

“Where do you live(questolon) I’ll pick you up.”

“Thinking about buying a house(questolon) there’s never been a better time than now!”

(If some savvy reader will tell me how to create this punctuation in Word for Mac, I will start using the questolon liberally in my papers, emails and articles.)

As a self-proclaimed comma lover (damn the editors!) and a member of the Semicolon Appreciation Society, I believe it’s important that we all band together to support this incipient member of our family.

Maybe we should start a Questolon Establishment Support Team (QuEST!). Will you join me(questolon) I hope you will!

Katrina Olson teaches public relations writing and strategy at the University of Illinois College of Media. She is also a freelance writer and strategic communications consultant. Follow her on Twitter at @WordGal122 or visit her website: http://www.katrinaolson.com.


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