A spit and polish

The letter request:

The head of the school – a professor, they tell us – is an utter buffoon. Every now and then he sends out a group email to congratulate someone who has decided to jump ship. This is a reasonable thing to do. However, what drives me nuts, and also makes me feel sorry for him in a you-have-toilet-paper-poking-out-of-your-pants kind of way, is his tendency to use question marks at the end of rhetorical questions that pertain to his capacity to do something. Can you help me encourage him to consider the danger his question marks are putting him in?


The letter:

Dear Professor,

Do you know what an eroteme is? You probably do, being a professor and all. I have to admit that, until I looked it up just now, I did not. I don’t mind telling you that. The best way to improve oneself is to allow that we all have surfaces that could do with a spit and polish. Nobody’s perfect, right? We all have room to grow.

So back to erotemes. As you’re probably aware, an eroteme is a question mark, also known as an interrogation point, an interrogation mark, a question point and a query. So there you go, that’s something new I learnt today. What about you? Any triumphs of learning in your neck of the woods?

Maybe you learnt that a question mark is a punctuation mark that replaces the full stop at the end of an interrogative sentence. Wait, no… forgive me. Most likely you know that already, having learnt it back in primary school.

Perhaps you learnt that a question mark is NOT to be used after a polite request that seeks no verbal response? I’m being rhetorical. As a recipient of your departmental emails I know for a fact that this is one area of learning where you have not been making ground.

Some example from your recent mailings:

Can I wish you well, Fay, in your new endeavours? 

Can I convey our congratulations to Joy for this appointment?

Questions such as these do not need a question mark because they seek no response.

Can I wish you well…?  – You already are!

Can I convey our congratulations…? – By asking it, you’re doing it!

As important as it is to admit when you don’t know something, it’s equally important to stand strong when you do. You know you can wish Fay well, and you know you can convey congratulations to Joy. These are within your capabilities, so no need to question – just state. People appreciate decisiveness and positivity, especially in times of uncertainty such as these…


A concerned member of faculty