Monday, July 6, 2015

Bridging the Sar-chasm

Percontation? Whaaaat?
Sarcasm is the topic of today's comic. Particularly how the use of sarcasm can be associated with a certain level of intelligence. I remember when my daughter was first able to understand and even use sarcasm around age 8, and I've heard that losing the ability to understand sarcasm is one of the signs of losing your mind.

Sarcasm is quite common in our spoken language, but is difficult to handle in writing. Why can we easily express questions or exclamation in written language but not sarcasm? All are basically just different kinds of vocal inflection when said aloud. How is it that there is no punctuation to represent sarcastic tone?

It has been proposed in the past. As early as the 1580's, writers were using a kind of backwards-looking question mark called a percontation point to represent ironic sarcasm. You've probably never seen a percontation point, because despite having a Unicode definition most fonts deem it so obscure that it is not rendered. And it's not a perfect solution because it would only be applied to irony, and not all sarcasm is ironic. Other proposals over the years have included text with a reverse slant to normal italics, a question mark inside square brackets, and using a tilde at the end of a sentence. Obviously, none of these ever caught on.

So today sarcasm is left to be conveyed using the fake <sarcasm></sarcasm> HTML tags or as a #sarcasm hashtag addendum to a phrase. Why does it have to be this way? Something as basic to the English language as sarcasm should have a first-order representation in our written language! The <sarcasm> tag should have a real rendering in a page, just like bold or underscore or italic.

Since I try to push the limits of both web comics and the English language, I have decided to use the aforementioned tilde to represent the sarcastic statements in my comic. I believe that it is the best choice of all the existing proposals. It exists on a normal keyboard layout and is not a composite of other punctuation, nor does it require any special visual rendering. If everyone starts doing it, we can finally allow sarcasm to take its rightful place in our written language.

Join me, and together we can make the world a more sarcastic place! comic for 6 July 2015

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