Irony punctuation

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Irony punctuation

Irony punctuation is any form of notation proposed or used to denote irony or sarcasm in text. Written English lacks a standard way to mark irony, and several forms of punctuation have been proposed. Among the oldest and most frequently attested are the percontation point, proposed by English printer Henry Denham in the 1580s, and the irony mark, used by Marcellin Jobard and French poet Alcanter de Brahm during the 19th century. Both marks take the form of a reversed question mark, "".

Irony punctuation is primarily used to indicate that a sentence should be understood at a second level. A bracketed exclamation point or question mark as well as scare quotes are also occasionally used to express irony or sarcasm.

Percontation point[edit]

The percontation point (Irony mark full.svg) , a reversed question mark later referred to as a rhetorical question mark, was proposed by Henry Denham in the 1580s and was used at the end of a question that does not require an answer—a rhetorical question. Its use died out in the 17th century.[1] This character can be represented using the reversed question mark (⸮) found in Unicode as U+2E2E; another character approximating it is the Arabic question mark (؟), U+061F.

The modern question mark (? U+003F) is descended from the "punctus interrogativus" (described as "a lightning flash, striking from right to left"),[2] but unlike the modern question mark, the punctus interrogativus may be contrasted with the punctus percontativus—the former marking questions that require an answer while the latter marks rhetorical questions.[3]

Irony mark[edit]

In 1668, John Wilkins, in An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, proposed using an inverted exclamation mark to punctuate ironic statements.[4] In 1841, Marcellin Jobard, a Belgian newspaper publisher, introduced an irony mark in the shape of an oversized arrow head with small stem (rather like an ideogram of a Christmas tree). The next year he expanded his idea, suggesting the symbol could be used in various orientations (on its side, upside down, etc.) to mark "a point of irritation, an indignation point, a point of hesitation".[5]

Irony mark as designed by Alcanter de Brahm in a French encyclopedia from 1905[6]

The irony point (French: point d'ironie) was proposed by the French poet Alcanter de Brahm (alias, Marcel Bernhardt) in his 1899 book L'ostensoir des ironies to indicate that a sentence should be understood at a second level (irony, sarcasm, etc.). It is illustrated by a glyph resembling, but not identical to, a small, elevated, backward-facing question mark.[3] The same mark was used earlier by Marcellin Jobard in an article dated June 11, 1841, and commented in an 1842 report.[7]

Hervé Bazin, in his essay "Plumons l'Oiseau" ("Let's pluck the bird", 1966), used the Greek letter ψ with a dot below for the same purpose (Point d'ironie (Hervé Bazin).svg).[8] In the same work, the author proposed five other innovative punctuation marks: the "doubt point" (Point de doute (Hervé Bazin).svg), "conviction point" (Point de conviction (Hervé Bazin).svg), "acclamation point" (Point d'acclamation (Hervé Bazin).svg), "authority point" (Point d'autorité (Hervé Bazin).svg), and "love point" (Point d'amour (Hervé Bazin).svg).[9]

In March 2007, the Dutch foundation CPNB (Collectieve Propaganda van het Nederlandse Boek) presented another design of an irony mark, the ironieteken: (Ironieteken.svg).[10][11]

Reverse italics (Sartalics)[edit]

Tom Driberg recommended that ironic statements should be printed in italics that lean the other way from conventional italics,[12] also called Sartalics.[13]

Scare quotes[edit]

Scare quotes are a particular use of quotation marks. They are placed around a word or phrase to indicate that it is not used in the fashion that the writer would personally use it. In contrast to the nominal typographic purpose of quotation marks, the enclosed words are not necessarily quoted from another source. When read aloud, various techniques are used to convey the sense, such as prepending the addition of "so-called" or a similar word or phrase of disdain, using a sarcastic or mocking tone, or using air quotes, or any combination of the above.

Temherte slaqî[edit]

In certain Ethiopic languages, sarcasm and unreal phrases are indicated at the end of a sentence with a sarcasm mark called temherte slaqî or temherte slaq, a character that looks like the inverted exclamation point (U+00A1) ( ¡ ).[14]

Other typography[edit]

Pair of sarcastisies by CollegeHumor

Rhetorical questions in some informal situations can use a bracketed question mark, e.g., "Oh, really[?]". The equivalent for an ironic or sarcastic statement would be a bracketed exclamation mark, e.g., "Oh, really[!]". Subtitles, such as in Teletext, sometimes use an exclamation mark within brackets or parentheses to mark sarcasm.[15]

It is common in online conversation among some Internet users to use a closing XML tag: </sarcasm>. Over time, it has evolved to lose the angle brackets (/sarcasm) and has subsequently been shortened to /sarc or /s (not to be confused with the HTML end tag </s> used to end a struck-through passage).[16] This usage later evolved into tone indicators.

Another example is bracketing text with the symbol for the element iron as a pun of the word "irony" (<Fe> and </Fe>) in order to denote irony. Typing in all-capital letters, and emoticons like "Rolling eyes", ":>", and ":P," as well as using the "victory hand" dingbat / emoji (✌) character to simulate air quotes, are often used as well, particularly in instant messaging, while a Twitter-style hashtag, #sarcasm, is also increasingly common.[17]

In many gaming communities, the word "Kappa" is frequently used to display sarcasm as well as joking intent. This is due to the word acting as an emoticon on Twitch, a livestreaming site, where it has gained popularity for such purpose.[18]

It is also common to use the combination of an open-parenthesis and an interrogation symbol as "(?" to mark irony.[citation needed]

A "SarcMark" symbol requiring custom computer font software was proposed in 2010.[19]

Another method of expressing sarcasm is by placing a tilde (~) adjacent to the punctuation. This allows for easy use with any keyboard, as well as variation. Variations include dry sarcasm (~.), enthusiastic sarcasm (~!), and sarcastic questions (~?). The sports blog Card Chronicle has adopted this methodology by inserting (~) after the period at the end of the sentence.[20] It has also been adopted by the Udacity Machine Learning Nanodegree community.[21]

On the Internet, it is common to see alternating uppercase and lowercase lettering to convey a mocking or sarcastic tone, often paired with an image of SpongeBob SquarePants acting like a chicken in the form of memes.[22][better source needed] CollegeHumor jokingly proposed new marks called “sarcastisies” which resemble ragged, or zig-zagged parentheses, used to enclose sarcastic remarks.[23]

The upside-down face emoji (🙃) Is often used to convey sarcasm.[24] However, it can also be understood to indicate a variety of subtle or concealed emotions. These can include annoyance, indignation, panic, mockery, and other more ambiguous feelings.[25][26][27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Truss 2003, p. 142
  2. ^ "Interrogativus.png". TypoWiki. Archived from the original on 2007-10-12.
  3. ^ a b Everson, Michael; Baker, Peter; Dohnicht, Marcus; Emiliano, António; Haugen, Odd Einar; Pedro, Susana; Perry, David J.; Pournader, Roozbeh (April 10, 2016). "Proposal to add Medievalist and Iranianist punctuation characters to the UCS" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-04-10. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Houston 2013, pp. 212–214
  5. ^ Houston 2013, pp. 215–217
  6. ^ Claude Augé, ed. (1897–1905). "Ironie (irony)". Nouveau Larousse illustré. Vol. 5. Paris. p. 329.
  7. ^ Marcellin JOBARD, "Industrie française: rapport sur l'exposition de 1839 – Volume II, p. 350-351." French industry, report on the 1839 exhibition, Vol 2 pp. 350–351 (French text available on-line)
  8. ^ Bazin, Hervé (1966). "Plumons l'oiseau". Paris (France): Éditions Bernard Grasset: 142. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ Yevstifeyev, Mykyta; Pentzlin, Karl (Feb 28, 2012). "Revised preliminary proposal to encode six punctuation characters introduced by Hervé Bazin in the UCS" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-05-07. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ "Nieuw: een leesteken voor ironie" (in Dutch). Stichting Collectieve Propaganda van het Nederlandse Boek (CPNB). 2007-03-13. Archived from the original on 2008-10-03. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  11. ^ "Leesteken moet ironie verduidelijken" (in Dutch). 2007-03-15. Archived from the original on 2013-06-22. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  12. ^ Houston 2013, p. 227
  13. ^ "WATCH: A Sarcasm Font At Last?!". HuffPost. 2011-08-05. Archived from the original on 2021-11-30. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  14. ^ Asteraye Tsigie; Berhanu Beyene; Daniel Aberra; Daniel Yacob (1999). "A Roadmap to the Extension of the Ethiopic Writing System Standard Under Unicode and ISO-10646" (PDF). 15th International Unicode Conference. p. 6. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2009-11-23. Retrieved 2010-04-16.
  15. ^ "BBC Subtitle Guidelines". Archived from the original on 2019-10-20. Retrieved 2019-10-26.
  16. ^ Khodak, Mikhail; Saunshi, Nikunj; Vodrahalli, Kiran (7–12 May 2018). "A Large Self-Annotated Corpus for Sarcasm" (PDF). Proceedings of the Language Resources and Evaluation Conference: 1. arXiv:1704.05579. Bibcode:2017arXiv170405579K. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 February 2019. Retrieved 8 February 2019.
  17. ^ Kunneman, Florian; Liebrecht, Christine; van Mulken, Margot; van den Bosch, Antal (July 2015). "Signaling sarcasm: From hyperbole to hashtag". Information Processing & Management. 51 (4): 500–509. doi:10.1016/j.ipm.2014.07.006.
  18. ^ David Goldenberg (21 October 2015). "How Kappa Became The Face Of Twitch". FiveThirtyEight. Archived from the original on 26 October 2017. Retrieved 5 February 2018.
  19. ^ "Nieuw leesteken waarschuwt voor sarcasme en ironie" [New punctuation mark warns of sarcasm and irony]. (in Dutch). 18 October 2010. Archived from the original on 12 May 2013. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
  20. ^ Mr_Hobbes (5 August 2014). "The Guide to Card Chronicle's memes / inside jokes / quirks". Card Chronicle. Archived from the original on 9 January 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  21. ^ "Community Guidelines§A few things to consider". MLND Wiki. 14 August 2017. Archived from the original on 20 January 2021. Retrieved 14 August 2017 – via GitHub.
  22. ^ "Mocking SpongeBob". Know Your Meme. Archived from the original on 2019-11-05. Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  23. ^ "8 new and necessary punctuation marks". College Humor. February 2013. Archived from the original on 8 January 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2019.
  24. ^ "🙃 Upside-Down Face Emoji". Emojipedia. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  25. ^ Kramer, Elise (2017-02-05). "The semiotics of the upside-down smiley 🙃". Ruthless Benedict. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  26. ^ "The 🙃 Upside Down Emoji And Other Emojis To Get You Through The Day | 🏆 Emojiguide". Emojiguide. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  27. ^ "Secret Life Of The Upside Down Smiley 🙃". The Odyssey Online. 2016-10-03. Retrieved 2022-05-26.


  • Houston, Keith (2013). Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks. New York & London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-393-06442-1.
  • Truss, Lynne (2003). Eats, Shoots & Leaves. ISBN 1-59240-087-6.

External links[edit]