What’s with Trump’s Question Marks???

Donald Trump

Getty Images

Last week President Donald Trump set off another firestorm of tweets, one of which began:

Followed a moment later by:

My heart was racing. I mean, it really sent me into a panic. And by "it" I am referring to the president’s use of three question marks in a row.

Call me punctuation-sensitive, but when I see it, I’m overcome by a sense of dread. And the pressure—answer my question now! This conveyed to me not just a sense of urgency, but also a sense of crisis. And loudness.

Maybe you don’t mind getting emails with triple the interrogation marks. Or triple interrogation marks preceded by ALL CAPS or larger-than-normal font size. When Rep. Devin Nunes conceded that Trump’s conversations may very well have been captured by FBI surveillance, a member of my extended family sent an exultant email, which read:

"What’s this? What’s this???" suggests the second question is louder than the first. So if I missed it the first time, the second time should do the trick. Hello! Wake up! Sound the alarm!

Here’s my breakdown of question-mark usage:

? — A question.

?? — Hey, I’m getting a little nervous here. Any chance you have an answer?

??? — I need to know NOW. This is an emergency! Is your screen shaking yet because I thought these three question marks would cause that to happen! Hello McFly! Anyone home???

???? or more — I’m having a seizure and can’t move my finger off the question-mark key. Please call 9-1-1.

Having worked with the esteemed essayist Joseph Epstein for many years, I’ve learned to avoid starting sentences with "however" and "moreover." I limit my use of exclamation marks. But what would Professor Epstein make of the president’s use of the triple-question mark?

"That he uses three question marks at the end of a sentence is meant to show, I gather, how deeply he questions what he takes to be the idiocy of people who disagree with him," Epstein tells me via email. As for Trump on Twitter, he writes, "Many of his tweets read like nothing so much as an unhappy young girl writing to her parents from summer camp. Like such a girl, he puts entire words in capital letters for emphasis; he peppers his words with exclamation marks." (A former student of Epstein's at Northwestern University says the professor was not exactly an easy grader.)

Now we all know the president is not, in fact, "an unhappy young girl." Well, he might be unhappy. The point is, it’s within his power to do better and come across as a more effective communicator. Overuse of punctuation has a diminishing effect on the rest of us—the more of it we see, the more likely we’ll tune out. Less is more. So my only wish is that Trump’s use of the triple question mark is a one-off. Since inauguration, he’s only done it once, which I find encouraging. Let’s keep it to that. PLEASE???