English edit

Pronunciation edit

A question mark (sense 1)
The question mark (Polygonia interrogationis; sense 4). The photograph immediately above shows the silver mark shaped like a question mark (sense 1) on the underside of the butterfly’s hindwing.

Noun edit

question mark (plural question marks)

  1. (typography) The punctuation mark "?", used at the end of a sentence to indicate a question.
    Synonyms: eroteme, interrogation mark, interrogation point, (archaic) interrogative, (obsolete) interrogative-point, query, note of interrogation
    • 1856, Jacob Abbott, “Lesson V. Questions.”, in Learning to Read. [] (Harper’s Picture Books for the Nursery; The Little Learner), New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, [], →OCLC, part III (Hard Reading Lessons), page 132:
      Do you see this curious-looking mark in the margin? It is a little crooked mark with a dot at the bottom of it. It is a question mark. It always comes at the end of questions.
    • 1857, Richard Greene Parker [i.e., Richard Green Parker], J[ames] Madison Watson, “Lesson II. The Interrogation Point.”, in The National Second Reader: [], revised edition, New York, N.Y.: A[lfred] S[mith] Barnes & Co., [], →OCLC, part I (Marks and Pauses), paragraph 4, page 14:
      When you come to a question mark, you must stop and rest. If the question may be answered by yes or no, your voice must rise on the last word before the question mark.
    • 1954, George C. Hardin, Jr., “[Moore Hill Fault System, Crittenden and Livingston Counties.] Geology.”, in William R. Thurston, George C. Hardin, Jr., Harry J. Klepser, Fluorspar Deposits in Western Kentucky: Part 3 (Geographical Survey Bulletin; 1012-E), Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, →OCLC, page 96:
      As the relation of the faulted lamprophyre dike to faults 1 to 3 is not known, the intersection of the dike with these faults is shown on plate 13 with question marks.
    • 1966, Lawrence J. Ross, “Introduction”, in Cyril Tourneur [now thought to be by Thomas Middleton], edited by Lawrence J. Ross, The Revenger’s Tragedy (Regents Renaissance Drama), Lincoln, Neb., London: University of Nebraska Press, →ISBN, page xxxi:
      Fortunately, then, this text in which the play is preserved to us is, in general, substantively good. The quarto's punctuation and lineation, however, are much less reliable than its language. The pointing is not in most respects notably worse than that in comparable publications; but the text is peppered with question marks, the printers either having spilled these among the other marks or run out of periods.
    • 2009, Dirk J. Smit, “On Self-love: Impulses from Calvin and Calvinism on Life in Society?”, in Robert Vosloo, editor, Essays on Being Reformed: Collected Essays 3, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa: SUN MeDIA Stellenbosch, →ISBN, part 4 (Contemporary Challenges), page 493:
      I would like to comment only on the question mark in the topic – and raise several questions for our discussion hidden within that question mark, questions integral to the ongoing debates since [John] Calvin, integral to the "historically extended and socially embedded argument within the Reformed tradition about the very goods that constitute that tradition" (adapting Alasdair MacIntyre's description of a living tradition).
    • 2015, Dorothy Koomson, “Smitty”, in That Girl from Nowhere, London: Arrow Books, Penguin Random House, published 2016, →ISBN, page 415:
      The waitress, [...] places my coffee beside my notebook then stops to gawp at what I've written and a deep frown forms between her unplucked eyebrows. She stares at the initials, the connecting lines, the question marks, the circles. I see them as she sees them: a load of rubbish, fanciful nonsense from a person who has watched one too many cop shows.
  2. (figuratively, informal) A state of doubt or uncertainty.
    There’s a question mark over whether or not he’ll be fit for the next game.
    • 2012, Shinji Moon, “‘Why Do You Write Poetry?’”, in The Anatomy of Being: (Poetry from 2011–2013), [Raleigh, N.C.]: [Lulu.com], →ISBN, page 100:
      Because I keep answering questions with more questions, and there are question marks between myself and other people and I can no longer keep myself from wondering why that must always be so.
    • 1952, E[liza] M[arian] Butler, “Lutheran Fausts”, in The Fortunes of Faust, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, London: Cambridge University Press, →ISBN, part I (Traditional Fausts), pages 11–12:
      Wherever the ambiguity in the Urfaustbook may have come from, and whether the author was fully aware of it or not, it is there: a faint, wavering question-mark at the end of an otherwise unequivocal statement that Faust was damned to all eternity in hell.
    • 1957 January 19, Henry Miller, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch[1], New York, N.Y.: New Directions Publishing, →ISBN:
      The Pachoutinsky brothers: Eugene, Anatol and Leon: what had become of them? had they survived the war? were they in want? All one big question mark in my mind.
    • 1958 May 14, Christian de La Malène, Constantin Melnik, “Second Period (1949–1955): Atomic Weapons are Regarded as Facts whose Existence Must be Admitted but about which Nothing can be Done”, in Ralph Manheim, transl., Attitudes of the French Parliament and Government toward Atomic Weapons [] (Research Memorandum; RM-2170-RC), Santa Monica, Calif.: The RAND Corporation, →OCLC, paragraph f, page 23:
      It was vaguely felt that a clear perception of atomic realities would necessitate a complete intellectual revolution. Such a revolution was particularly unwelcome; it meant exchanging the certainties of conventional warfare for a vast number of question marks. The fact that it was others who possessed atomic weapons made the question marks still less attractive.
    • 2011 April 11, Phil McNulty, “Liverpool 3 – 0 Man City”, in BBC Sport[2], archived from the original on 2 August 2019:
      Dirk Kuyt sandwiched a goal in between [Andy] Carroll's double as City endured a night of total misery, with captain Carlos Tevez limping off early on with a hamstring strain that puts a serious question mark over his participation in Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United at Wembley.
    • 2014, Derrick McCarson, “The Search for Meaning (1:12–2:11)”, in Journal of a Mad Man: The Wisdom of Ecclesiastes, Eugene, Or.: Resource Publications, Wipf and Stock, →ISBN, page 34:
      [W]e see that intellectual pursuits always end with question marks. The curse of learning is that it leaves us with no answers to the questions that matter the most. That's because the answers to our existential questions are not found under the sun.
    • 2018 July 25, A. A. Dowd, “Fallout may be the Most Breathlessly Intense Mission: Impossible Adventure Yet”, in The A.V. Club[3], archived from the original on 31 July 2018:
      For a while, the biggest question mark of allegiance is August Walker (Henry Cavill, subverting his man-of-steel screen presence), the brutish CIA tagalong feeding his superiors the theory that [Ethan] Hunt may really be going rogue after years of being left out in the cold by his handlers.
  3. (figuratively, informal) An enigmatic, inscrutable, or mysterious person or thing; an enigma, a riddle.
    Synonyms: mystery, puzzle
    • 1964, Leo Strauss, “On Plato’s Republic”, in The City and Man, paperback edition, Chicago, Ill., London: University of Chicago Press, published 1978, →ISBN, page 55:
      Let us admit that the Platonic dialogue is an enigma—something perplexing and to be wondered at. The Platonic dialogue is one big question mark.
    • 1999 January 27, Ben Brantley, “Paradise Hotel [review]”, in The New York Times, New York, N.Y.: The New York Times Company, →ISSN, →OCLC, page E1, column 1; reprinted in “Reviews 1999”, in The New York Times Theatre Reviews 1999–2000, New York, N.Y.: Times Books; New York, N.Y.; London: Routledge, 2002, →ISBN:
      Mr. [Richard] Foreman has been the reigning philosopher vaudevillian of the New York avant-garde for three decades now, creating fractured dreamscapes in which life is the banana cream pie that keeps hitting you in the face. His starting point is that the world is unknowable, self is a question mark, and existence is one long chain of frustrations.
    • 2000, Sharon Kingen, “Note to the Reader”, in Teaching Language Arts in Middle Schools: Connecting and Communicating, New York, N.Y., Hove, East Sussex: Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis, published 2014, →ISBN, page xiii:
      Those who enroll in my class are English majors seeking a license to teach at the secondary level. To most of them, middle school is a question mark, unexplored territory about which they have mixed feelings.
  4. Polygonia interrogationis, a North American nymphalid butterfly with a silver mark on the underside of its hindwing resembling a question mark (sense 1).
    • 1990, Wendy Potter-Springer, “List of Host Plants for Caterpillars”, in Heather Clemow, editor, Grow a Butterfly Garden (A Storey County Wisdom Bulletin; A-114), North Adams, Mass.: Storey Publishing, →ISBN, page 7:
      Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis). Preferred host plants are elms (Ulmus spp.), hackberry (Celtis spp.), hops (Humulus spp.), nettle (Urtica spp.), and false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica).
    • 2004, Scott Shalaway, “Close-ups”, in Butterflies in the Backyard, Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, →ISBN, page 18:
      Commas (Polygonia comma) and Question Marks (Polygonia interrogationis) occur from the Gulf Coast to Canada and west to the Rockies. [...] Question Marks and Commas are handsome butterflies with burnt orange and black markings. [...] On the underside of each hind wing of the Comma is a small, distinctive silver hook that resembles a comma. The Question Mark has a small silver dot just below the hook—a question mark. Any other name just wouldn't do.
    • 2013, Ann Simpson, Rob Simpson, “Butterflies and Moths”, in Nature Guide to Shenandoah National Park (Falcon Pocket Guide), Guilford, Conn., Helena, Mont.: Falcon Guides, Globe Pequot Press, →ISBN, page 91:
      Other members of this genus that are frequently encountered in the park are the eastern comma (P. comma) and question mark (P. interrogationis).

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