New Punctuation: from Interrobang to SarcMark

SarcMark: to denote sarcasm

Just what we needed, more punctuation.

Well…. actually we do need more. That statement itself could have benefited from a symbol that conveyed the fact that I did not seriously want more punctuation or font problems to deal with! But digital communications have run into a few unforeseen limitations. Have you found yourself being more easily misunderstood in email and text messaging than you are face to face or by phone conversations? So much of our communication actually occurs through physical cues, expressions, body and hand gestures, intonation and vocal signals – none of which are accessible in a text message or a 140 character tweet!

Whenever a difficulty arises in communication, language begins to morph and adapt to overcome that difficulty. In this case, the use of little smiley faces and emoticons are an attempt to “add on” a little explanation of unspoken cues in symbolic form. A more formal attempt to alter the written language is an attempt at a punctuation change called the SarcMark: a registered trademarked symbol that you can purchase to use in order to denote sarcasm or irony in a statement.

The SarcMark is the creation of Paul and Doug Sak who started Sarcasm Inc. They saw the need (and business opportunity) for a punctuation mark that denotes sarcasm, especially in a digital communication. As their video says, “Only $1.99 for lifetime use… and never be misunderstood again.” It works on both Mac and PC platforms, and has both a font option for type or texting, or a graphic option if you know the person on the other end has not downloaded the symbol as well. Smark marketers, the Saks have also created branded apparel and other items to encourage the use of their new punctuation.

Punctuation marks for Sarcasm and irony

English has no standard symbol to denote irony or sarcasm, though historically there have been a few attempts put forward. The Interrobang (I love that word) is a combination of question mark and exclamation point, and is used by some to mark a rhetorical question that does not require an answer, or to show excitement or disbelief in the form of a question (“Did you just do what I think you did?!) The irony point (a backwards question mark) is a French attempt to create a punctuation mark to indicate there is a second meaning to what is being said. Also, emoticons are very much an outgrowth of the same need for additional punctuation in text or email communication to set a tone or to explain subtext in what is being said.

Overall, the appearance of these new symbols is an interesting development in the evolution of English. More change, just what you needed, right?! 😉


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