A Sarcastic Punctuation Mark. How Necessary.

Sarcmark logo vs. OpenSarcasm logo

This is ridiculous. Did you know that there is a on-going debate regarding the proper means of punctuating sarcasm? It’s true. Apparently, a company called SarcMark has recently filed a patent on their new, copyrighted, sarcasm punctuation mark. It’s the spiral-designed one on the left of the picture above. Meanwhile, to counter their move, a group known as Open Sarcasm has rebutted the claim, stating that there already exists a sarcasm punctuation mark thanks to the Ethiopic writing system. Convenienty enough for the type-setters and font foundries out there, the symbol is exactly the same as the upside-down exclamation point used in Spanish. No new addendums are necessary, unlike the SarcMark method.

My concern over this argument is not which of the two punctuation marks is the more correct mark, though from a logistics standpoint, I would go with the Open Sarcasm method because it already exists in Unicode compatible type-sets. Instead, my problem is with the notion that we need a sarcasm punctuation mark at all.

I love sarcasm.  Sarcasm is a wonderful tool for both oration and literature. But it is a specific tool, and can in fact be quite dangerous to both the recipient and the wielder.  Sarcasm is a knife, multi-purposeful, just as at home in the kitchen as in the hand of a trained fighter.  But when wielded incorrectly, no matter how innocuous the environment, the user is still likely to get cut, lost a finger or maybe even worse.

The times to best use sarcasm are quite specific.  One should use sarcasm when:

  1. You disagree with a known perception of reality
  2. Your audience is aware of both the known perception and your disagreement
  3. You audience agrees with your own perception of reality, and not the instigating perception

With these circumstances fulfilled, one can wield sarcasm to the endless delight of his audience.  The more opinionated the individual is, combined with a deep understanding of many different world views, results in either a reputation of being witty, or of being a know-it-all jackass.  The difference between the two is dependent upon fulfilling the third circumstance listed above.

If one chooses to wield sarcasm amongst those who do not agree with his own perception of reality, it will most likely not be appreciated by his audience.  However, in recent times, and also in some cultures, people choose to use sarcasm without the third circumstance being fulfilled, and the advent of this punctuation mark debacle is proof that this continues to be the case amongst some of the Internet culture.

In many cultures, sarcasm is dry, and often expressed without special intonation, which can leave many wondering if the speaker is being sarcastic at all.  However, if individuals listening have pre-knowledge of the speaker’s opinions and world-views, then explicit intonation or other form of demarcation is less important.  It implies that the listeners are intimates of the speaker, and the sarcasm is for their own amusement; harmless in-jokes.

Demarcating sarcasm allows an individual to forgo the third circumstance and bring sarcasm into the realm of the harmful, or even worse, the realm of the, “out of context.” The beauty that arises from the subtly and required intimacy of sarcasm is lost, the stiletto replaced by the Bowie.  Will it be effective? Of course… if your goal is the destruction of your target and your own labeling as a jackass know-it-all.  Trust me, I have been there, and it’s not a fun place to be. 

Demarcation is degrading an art into the realm of the common; an art that requires years of hard work and a multitude of apologies to friends and loved ones, in order to add it to your arsenal.  He who needs a punctuation mark to denote sarcasm is he who should not be wielding it in the first place. This is ridiculous.

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