by Dean Leutscher

Two strains of the question mark virus are running rampant through our society, and hopefully you are not a carrier. You almost certainly have been exposed to one or both strains within the last day or two, however.

One strain of the virus is known as up-speak – ending a sentence with a question mark, or speaking “up,” as if the sentence is a question. Read the following paragraph aloud, as if each phrase is a question, and you will recognize the up-speak variant of the virus.

During conversations? … some people can’t get through an entire sentence? … before adding an inappropriate question mark? It’s distracting for the listener? … and it makes the speaker? … sound like they just graduated from junior high school?

I haven’t noticed the problem with the written word, but can someone please tell me when conversations lost the period? Turn on any radio or television program and you will hear so-called media professionals and their guests from all walks of life who have been infected by the question mark virus and are spreading it with every conversation.

It’s like a carrier of the flu coughing and sneezing at you from across the table. Not only is it annoying but it’s also a major distraction to the information the speaker is trying to communicate. They may be making very good points, but I can’t get past the incessantly spewed question marks.

The symptom of the second strain of the question mark virus – I call it the Jeopardy strain, named for the game show format – is asking and answering one’s own question. Politicians and pundits have been particularly hard hit by this strain. Why don’t they save us all a lot of time and just get to the answer in the form of a sentence with a period at the end? Perhaps it is so they can get more on-camera time during interviews.

Or, to rewrite those last two sentences into one that gets to the point: I believe people ask and answer their own questions to increase their own on-camera time. There: 29 words instead of 40. Think of the time they would be saving us all, not to mention clearly communicating their message in the process.

I don’t know how the question mark virus started, or why it persists, but in both variants it’s a barrier to effective communication. Regardless of how they contracted the virus, the carriers may not even be aware that they are spreading it. Maybe it has something to do with the speakers not feeling confident about the correctness of their information. Or perhaps they are insecure and looking for validation by using a question mark.

Frankly, I don’t have a solution except to tell someone what he or she is doing, but that seems rude, and I would spend too much time doing it. However, we can all contribute to the cure by paying attention to our own speech and not spreading the virus. Also, you can “like” and repost this piece. Hopefully, awareness will spread faster than the virus.

Dean Leutscher is available for engagements requiring expertise, talents and skills in program/project management, communications or training – or change initiatives, which will require all three. You can contact Dean at