It is a sunny June 1981 afternoon in South West London, and an enraged New Yorker called McEnroe is screaming incredulously at a bemused tennis umpire named Edward James. The New Yorker, already a controversial figure in the sport, is in the process of articulating what will become one of the best known rants in sporting history:
Write John McEnroe’s words down and normal punctuation doesn’t seem adequate. In fact, consider anything about his manner, and general inadequacy starts to creep up on you – it takes a pretty remarkable level of self-assurance to abandon your dignity as much as McEnroe did, all while wearing a pair of shorts almost small enough to require their own place on the periodic table. And that’s before even considering his hair. The word ‘hair’ doesn’t feel big enough to properly convey what McEnroe has strapped down on his head, as ungainly and disproportioned as a knackered king size mattress on the roof of a Citroën 2CV. It’s the sort of hair that should be referred to with as many vowels as practicably possible: ‘haaaaaaaaaaaaaaair’, sounding like a scream on a roller coaster, or the roar of a lion (possibly as it shakes its McEnroe-esque mane, possibly while riding a roller coaster). So yes, all in all, normal punctuation just does not seem to work with McEnroe’s invective.
Fortunately, nearly 20 years before McEnroe’s Wimbledon rant, another New Yorker named Martin K. Speckter had considered the need for a punctuation mark designed to convey incredulous, excited or rhetorical questions. Speckter called it the “interrobang”, and this is my brief illustrated history of the mark that could have been made for McEnroe.
(This illustrated history originally made up the pages of a book I researched, wrote and designed in response to an ISDT brief in 2007. Click the images for high quality artwork.)