Beyond Emoji: A Need for New Punctuation?

Artwork for new punctuation


Our language is constantly evolving regardless of how many grammar and standardized rules we define. Typography, in time, evolves as well under the influence of both the spoken language and the newly emerging digital modes of interaction. Digital communications have inspired an increase in some new experimental punctuation marks – attempts to bring more clarity to non-verbal, non face-to-face conversation.

Is New Punctuation Needed?

Digital communications have run into a few unforeseen limits. 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 limitation arises in communication, language begins to morph and adapt to overcome that difficulty. It’s inevitable. Currently, emoticons or emoji are an attempt to “add on” a little explanation or commentary with unspoken cues in symbolic form. They are often used in a playful way – perhaps more as decoration, personalization or humor than a standard punctuation mark. But recently a few nominees have emerged for induction into our standard set of periods, commas and semicolons.

The Exclamation and Question Commas

exclamation comma and question commaThe Exclamation Comma, and its cousin the Question Comma (or Quoma), are attempts to move emphasis from the entire contents of a sentence to a phrase within the statement or question. The Grammarly blog cites the Exclamation Comma as an invention from 1992 that was patented in Canada, and then largely forgotten. The pressing need for either of these marks might be debatable, but they do serve a clear purpose as in the examples below:

“While I love your new outfit (exclamation comma) I’m certain the invitation called for formal attire.”

“Who do you think you are (question comma) a winner or a loser?”

SarcMark, Interrobang, Irony Point

SarcMark: to denote sarcasmA 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

The Interrobang 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.

Perhaps the proof of whether any of these marks have a lasting place in our typography will be when one or more of them make it into the standard set of glyphs for our most used font families – or even onto our keyboards. Time will tell.




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