Irony punctuation is any proposed form of notation 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 sometimes used to express irony or sarcasm.
The modern question mark (? U+003F) 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.
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. 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.
In 1688, John Wilkins in his famous Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language proposed using an inverted exclamation mark to punctuate ironic statements. Marcellin Jobard, a Belgian newspaper publisher introduced an irony mark in the shape of an oversize arrow head with small stem (rather like an ideogram of a Christmas Tree) in 1841. The next year he expanded his idea, suggesting the symbol could be used in various orientations (on its side, upside down, etc.) to as "a point of irritation, an indignation point, a point of hesitation."
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. The same mark was used earlier by Marcellin Jobard in an article dated June 11, 1841, and commented in an 1842 report.
Hervé Bazin in his 1966 essay Plumons l’Oiseau ("Let's pluck the bird"), used the Greek letter psi (ψ) with a dot below for the same purpose. In the same work, the author proposed five other innovative punctuation marks: the "doubt point" (), "certitude point" (), "acclamation point" (), "authority point" (), and "love point" ().
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.
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 (U+00A1) ( ¡ ), 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, such as in Teletext, sometimes use an exclamation mark within brackets or parentheses to mark sarcasm.
The question mark, particularly when between parentheses, can also be used as a "meta" sign to signal uncertainty regarding the preceding text. The uncertainty may concern either a superficial aspect of the text (such as unsure spelling) or a deeper level of meaning.
It is common in online conversation among computer specialists to use a pseudo-HTML element:
</sarcasm>. The tag is often written only after the sarcasm so as to momentarily trick the reader before admitting the joke. 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. "Rolling eyes" and ":P" emoticons are often used as well, particularly in instant messaging, while a Twitter-style hashtag, #sarcasm, is also gaining currency.
A "SarcMark" symbol requiring custom computer font software was proposed in 2010.
- Proposal to add Medievalist and Iranianist punctuation characters to the UCS by Michael Everson, Peter Baker, Marcus Dohnicht, António Emiliano, Odd Einar Haugen, Susana Pedro, David J. Perry, Roozbeh Pournader.
- Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, 2003. p. 142. ISBN 1-59240-087-6.
- Houston, Keith (2013). Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks. New York & London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. pp. 212–214. ISBN 978-0-393-06442-1.
- Houston, Keith (2013). Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks. New York & London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. pp. 215–217. ISBN 978-0-393-06442-1.
- Claude Augé, ed. (1897–1905), "Ironie (irony)", Nouveau Larousse illustré 5, Paris, p. 329
- 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)
- Bazin, Hervé (1966), Plumons l’oiseau, Paris (France): Éditions Bernard Grasset, p. 142
- Revised preliminary proposal to encode six punctuation characters introduced by Hervé Bazin in the UCS by Mykyta Yevstifeyev and Karl Pentzlin, Feb. 28, 2012
- "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.
- "Leesteken moet ironie verduidelijken" (in Dutch). Nieuwsblad.be. 2007-03-15. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
- 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". 15th International Unicode Conference. p. 6.
- "Nieuw leesteken waarschuwt voor sarcasme en ironie (New punctuation mark warns of sarcasm and irony)" (in Dutch). HLN.BE (Het Laatste Nieuws, België). 2010-10-18. Retrieved 2012-09-15.