Friday, February 27, 2009

I'm a Question Mark Conservative ... Or Am I?

Technically, it's fine to eschew question marks when a question is really intended as a statement.
Who cares.
Can you believe it.
How do you like them apples.

But that's not how I roll. In my writing, it's:
Who cares?
Can you believe it?
How do you like them apples?

I know these aren't really questions seeking answers. I realize that they're intended as statements. But to me, it is their core essence as questions that makes them useful as statements. So I give 'em question marks.

I'm more prejudicial in the opposite situation: when people add question marks to statements and commands.
Guess what?

That, to me, is a command plain and simple. Though I suppose there's an argument to be made in favor of putting a question mark here, I'm anti-question mark in this situation. Or at least I thought I was until 15 minutes ago when I was writing an e-mail to a friend. I wrote:

I promised him I would help with the project for free. And, guess what? I

A moment later I noticed it and changed it.

And guess what. I flaked.

But for some reason, I didn't like that either. I recast my sentence ("and, suprise, surprise -- I flaked") and am now left wondering what got into me. (I'm also wondering: what got into me? And I'm even wondering what got into me?)

Bookmark and Share


Big Sky Daddy said...

I think your first examples are not equivalent at all, especially if they were dialog. I get a totally different feel when I read one set vs the other.

For example, "Who cares." sounds like a depressed response, the way a moody teen might respond to being told they have only one life to live. "Who cares?" is how I would respond to my wife telling me I'm mixing the white and black socks (again).

June Casagrande said...

All I can say for sure is that that is NOT the right response to mixing white and black socks!

: )

Reminds me of a time when walking out of a job interview I looked down and noticed I was wearing on black SHOE and one white SHOE! I had a tendency back them to kick off my shoes when I got into the driver's seat and apparently I there had been two pairs down there when I went to slip them back on.

Funnnier yet: I got the job.

On a more serious note: I see your point about tone and intent guiding these things. But that's sort of what I meant by conservative. I tend to not make allowances for things like tone. To me, a question's a question and an imperative's an imperative.

Joel said...

I've been wrestling with the question marks lately. I would definitely include them on your first set. As far as the "guess what," it depends. But what's been getting me is the question in the middle of a sentence. For instance, I'd be inclined to write your example as "I promised him I would help with the project for free, and--guess what?--I
flaked." I really want that question mark and I want it all to be one sentence. I overuse the dash but I think I like me that way. Perhaps the point is that I'm often breaking stride with parenthetical insertions of one form or another, many of which are inquisitive. What's ironic is that I have no problem with fragments. Well, I have a problem with them, but the problem is that I'm too willing to employ them. Why then am I so willing at other times to cram sentences together?

Poop, I know that there are a ton of other question mark dilemmas I've had lately but can't think of one.

How do you feel about the question mark on a statement as question? That's okay, right? E.g., "You meant to do that?"

June Casagrande said...

Sorry it took so long to post your comment. I was on a rare not-because-company's-coming cleaning spree yesterday and hardly sat down at the computer.

Anyhoo, here's some good news for you. From "Chicago Manual":

"A question mark is used within a sentence at the end of a direct question. If the question does not begin the sentence, it need not start with a capital letter.

"'Is it worth the risk? he wondered.'

"'The question, how can the two be reconciled? was on everyone's mind."

Nice to have that sanctioned.

Re dashes: They're very, very handy. They let you do so much. I'm all for dashes. I use them a lot.

Another punctatuion mark I use a lot is the colon. But I've decided recently that, unlike dashes, I use colons too much. Gotta chill on the colons.

Re statements as questions: I have no problem with question marks there because inflection is a way of forming a question.

You like rye.
You like rye?

The perceived inflection has a lot to do with all this. If it's a sentence whose words would inflect up at the end, then a question mark is appropriate.

But that's why I don't like a question mark with "Guess what." It's read flat. No upward lilt at the end like "You like rye?"


Bookmark and Share