Irony Mark


Although in the written English language there is no standard way to denote irony or sarcasm, several forms of punctuation have been proposed. Among the oldest and frequently attested are the ‘percontation point’ invented by English printer Henry Denham in the 1580s, and the irony mark, furthered by French poet Alcanter de Brahm in the 19th century. Both of these marks were represented visually by a backwards question mark.

These punctuation marks are primarily used to indicate that a sentence should be understood at a second level. A bracketed exclamation point and/or question mark are also sometimes used to express irony or sarcasm. Scare quotes are quotation marks placed around a word or phrase to indicate that it does not signify its literal or conventional meaning.

It is common in online conversation among computer specialists to use a pseudo-HTML element: <sarcasm></sarcasm>. Many times, the opening tag is omitted, due to the HTML tagging often being an afterthought. Similarly, and common in social-news-based sites, is a single /s placed at the end of a comment to indicate a sarcastic tone for the preceding text. A ‘rolling eyes’ emoticon is often used as well, particularly in instant messaging, while a Twitter-style hashtag, #sarcasm, is also gaining currency.

The modern question mark is descended from the ‘punctus interrogativus’ (described as ‘a lightning flash, striking from right to left’), 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 (questions which do not require an answer). This percontation point, later also referred to as a rhetorical question mark, died out in the 17th century. It was the reverse of an ordinary question mark, so that instead of the main opening pointing back into the sentence, it opened away from it.

The irony mark or irony point is a punctuation mark proposed by the French poet Alcanter de Brahm (alias Marcel Bernhardt) at the end of the 19th century used to indicate that a sentence should be understood at a second level (e.g. irony, sarcasm, etc.). It was in turn taken by Hervé Bazin in his book ‘Plumons l’Oiseau’ (‘Let’s pluck the bird,’ 1966), in which the author proposes several other innovative punctuation marks, such as the ‘doubt point,’ ‘certitude point,’ ‘acclamation point,’ ‘authority point,’ ‘indignation point,’ and ‘love point.’

Scare quotes are a particular use of quotation marks. They are placed around a word or phrase to indicate that the word or phrase 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.

In certain Ethiopic languages, sarcasm and unreal phrases are indicated at the end of a sentence with a sarcasm mark called ‘temherte slaq,’ a character that looks like the inverted exclamation point.

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 sometimes use an exclamation mark within brackets or parentheses to mark sarcasm: (!). Likewise, Karl Marx uses the exclamation mark within brackets repeatedly throughout ‘Das Kapital, Volume 1.’ For example, in one instance, to ridicule Colonel Torrens: ‘The problem is in no way simplified if extraneous matters are smuggled in, as with Colonel Torrens: ‘effectual demand consists in the power and inclination [!], on the part of the consumers, to give for commodities, either by immediate or circuitous barter….”

The question mark can also be used as a ‘meta’ sign to signal uncertainty regarding what precedes. It is usually put between parentheses ‘(?).’ The uncertainty may concern either a superficial aspect of the text (such as unsure spelling) or a deeper level of meaning.

2 Responses to “Irony Mark”

  1. Exactly what i was looking for, now this just solved my proble


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