Image credit. Question marks are often depicted as a symbol of burden, confusion, or perplexity. Obviously, we like to have answers, and hate to be worried by the unknown. Yet, our civilisation is being lifted to its advanced levels by a relentless barrage of question marks. The answers are only the top of the iceberg - and answers with exclamation marks are often only dots of pollution on the iceberg's top that can grow so large as to constrict the vital effervescence of doubt, conjecture and corroboration.
Civilisation begins with the question mark. Advanced civilisation - freedom - is first and foremost the defence of the question mark, and the environment of its most productive use - for more on this, see my Summing Up the Universe, Sir Karl Popper's Three Worlds.
The pillars of developed freedom are (a) free science, (opinion and expression), (b) free markets and (c) free political participation, each of which representing an industry of question marks asking
(i) whether it is possible to improve our knowledge of nature and man (science),
(ii) whether there are better ways of providing man with goods and services (markets), and
(iii) whether there is room for new and better ways to advance social interaction so as to foster the ability of human beings to coordinate and cooperate peacefully and productively (politics).
Once upon a time, there was no such thing as a question mark. To show that a question was being asked, the word question would be written. In Latin - quaesto. The reason that it was in Latin was because that was the universal scholastic language of the time.
However, paper was not cheap and so to allow space to be saved, it was over time shortened to qo. That eventually posed another problem – qo could be confused for the ending of another word rather than an indication that a question was being posed. So, the q was placed on top of the o. Again, this had the added benefit of saving space. What happened next was that the q turned in to a squiggle and the o became a dot. What do you get then? Exactly! Here is the evolution.
I am not so fond of the exclamation mark. I consider myself a question-mark-liberal, rather than an exclamation-mark-liberal.
The exclamation mark is what political schools and parties have in common, and with it the conceit of perfect solutions and the abandonment of unprejudiced analysis in favour of caricatured scapegoats.
The exclamation point (or mark) has a similar history to that of the question mark. An exclamation point is used to give a certain punch to a sentence – and is used most injudiciously in a million text messages a day. Originally, an exclamation was represented by the Latin word io. This literally means “exclamation of joy” and is short itself for iocundia or iocundum. Once again, over time, the i was placed above the o. So the mark that we use and abuse so often (an overuse for which it was not – and is not – intended) is descended from a Latinate “yeeeees!” Goal!