Irony punctuation

Irony punctuation is any form of notation proposed or used to denote irony or sarcasm in text. Written text, in English and other languages, lacks a standard way to mark irony, and several forms of punctuation have been proposed to fill the gap. The oldest is the percontation point in the form of a reversed question mark (), proposed by English printer Henry Denham in the 1580s for marking rhetorical questions, which can be a form of irony. Specific irony marks have also been proposed, such as in the form of an open upward arrow (
), used by Marcellin Jobard in the 19th century, and in a form resembling a reversed question mark (), proposed by French poet Alcanter de Brahm during the 19th century.

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

The percontation point () , 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

In 1668, John Wilkins, in An Essay Towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language, proposed using an inverted exclamation mark to punctuate rhetorical questions.[4]

In an article dated 11 October 1841, Marcellin Jobard, a Belgian newspaper publisher, introduced an "irony mark" (French: point d'ironie) in the shape of an oversized arrow head with small stem (rather like an ideogram of a Christmas tree).[5][6] 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".[7][8]

Irony mark as designed by Alcanter de Brahm in a French encyclopedia from 1905[9]

Another 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]

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 ().[10] In the same work, the author proposed five other innovative punctuation marks: the "doubt point" (), "conviction point" (), "acclamation point" (), "authority point" (), and "love point" ().[11]

In March 2007, the Dutch foundation CPNB (Collectieve Propaganda van het Nederlandse Boek) presented another design of an irony mark, the ironieteken: ().[12][13]

Reverse italics (Sartalics)

Tom Driberg recommended that ironic statements should be printed in leftward-slanting italics to distinguish from conventional rightward-slanting italics,[14] also called Sartalics.[15]

Scare quotes

Main article: Scare quotes

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 slaq

In certain Ethiopic languages, sarcasm and unreal phrases are indicated at the end of a sentence with a sarcasm mark called temherte slaq[16][17] or timirte slaq[18] (Amharic: ትእምርተ፡ሥላቅ),[18][19] a character that looks like the inverted exclamation point (U+00A1) ( ¡ ).[16]

Other typography

"/s" redirects here. For further information, see tone indicator.

Pseudo-HTML Tags

It is common in online conversation among some Internet users to use a fictitious closing tag patterned after HTML: </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 valid HTML end tag </s> used to end a struck-through passage).[20] Users of the website Reddit frequently denote sarcasm through the use of /s, as shorthand.[21] 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.

Paired punctuation


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.[22]


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.[23] It has also been adopted by the Udacity Machine Learning Nanodegree community.[24]

Capitalization patterns

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.[25][better source needed]

Emoji and emoticons

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.[26]

The upside-down face emoji (🙃) is often used to convey sarcasm.[27] 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.[28][29][30]

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.[31]

Custom indicators

Pair of sarcastisies by CollegeHumor
A "SarcMark"

CollegeHumor jokingly proposed new marks called "sarcastisies" which resemble ragged, or zig-zagged parentheses, used to enclose sarcastic remarks.[32]

A "SarcMark" symbol, which resembled an @, but with the spiral reversed and a period at its center instead of an 'a', requiring custom computer font software was proposed in 2010.[33]

See also


  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.
  4. ^ Houston 2013, pp. 212–214
  5. ^ Marie-Christine Claes (June 23, 2012). "Jobard invente le précurseur du smiley en 1841" [Jobard invents the precursor of the smiley in 1841]. Archived from the original on 2013-09-27.
  6. ^ Rebecca Lee (2022). How Words Get Good: The Story of Making a Book. Profile Books. ISBN 978-1-78283-759-6.
  7. ^ J. B. A. M. Jobard (1842). Rapport sur l'exposition de 1839. chez l'Auteur. p. 350.
  8. ^ Houston 2013, pp. 215–217
  9. ^ Claude Augé, ed. (1897–1905). "Ironie (irony)". Nouveau Larousse illustré. Vol. 5. Paris. p. 329.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  10. ^ Bazin, Hervé (1966). "Plumons l'oiseau". Paris (France): Éditions Bernard Grasset: 142. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ "Leesteken moet ironie verduidelijken" (in Dutch). 2007-03-15. Archived from the original on 2013-06-22. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  14. ^ Houston 2013, p. 227
  15. ^ "WATCH: A Sarcasm Font At Last?!". HuffPost. 2011-08-05. Archived from the original on 2021-11-30. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  16. ^ a b 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.
  17. ^ The erroneous form temherte slaqî appeared previously in this article and has propagated on the internet (see e.g. this Quora post). The error is due to an encoding issue in the online PDF of Tsigie, et al. (1999) "A Roadmap," p. 6, that renders some characters incorrectly when copy-pasted. Under certain circumstances copy-pasting the phrase “Temherte Slaq” (with quotation marks) from the PDF yields ìTemherte Slaqî. That terminal î has no business there, or in any Romanization from the Geʽez script.
  18. ^ a b Yacob, Daniel; Ishida, Richard, eds. (2020-05-26). "Ethiopic Layout Requirements". W3C. Retrieved 2024-01-05.
  19. ^ Kane, Thomas Leiper (1990). Amharic-English Dictionary. Vol. 1. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. p. 986. ISBN 978-3-447-02871-4. LCCN 91166276. OCLC 24468448.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Mueller, Christopher (2016). "Positive Feedback Loops: Sarcasm and the Pseudo-Argument in Reddit Communities". Academic Commons - Columbia University Libraries. doi:10.7916/D8KD34QN. Retrieved 2023-11-13.
  22. ^ "BBC Subtitle Guidelines". Archived from the original on 2019-10-20. Retrieved 2019-10-26.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ "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.
  25. ^ "Mocking SpongeBob". Know Your Meme. Archived from the original on 2019-11-05. Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  26. ^ 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. hdl:2066/148844.
  27. ^ "🙃 Upside-Down Face Emoji". Emojipedia. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  28. ^ Kramer, Elise (2017-02-05). "The semiotics of the upside-down smiley 🙃". Ruthless Benedict. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  29. ^ "The 🙃 Upside Down Emoji And Other Emojis To Get You Through The Day | 🏆 Emojiguide". Emojiguide. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  30. ^ "Secret Life Of The Upside Down Smiley 🙃". The Odyssey Online. 2016-10-03. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Trapp, Mike (February 20, 2013). "8 new and necessary punctuation marks". College Humor. Archived from the original on 8 January 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2019.
  33. ^ "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.