Mighty Red Pen

February 19, 2010

What a GREAT idea

Filed under: Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 8:29 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve been meaning to write about the SarcMark since I read about it in Erin McKean’s column the other week. What’s the SarcMark you ask? It’s a bit of punctuation meant to signal that what you’ve just read is meant to be sarcastic. It looks like this:

Now how do you get your own keyboard to make the SarcMark, you ask? Well, you download it for $1.99 from Sarcasm, Inc., the creators and marketers of the SarcMark. According to their website:

The official, easy-to-use punctuation mark to emphasize a sarcastic phrase, sentence or message.  Once downloaded to your computer or cell phone, it’s a quick key-stroke or two to insert the ® where you want, when you want, in your communications with the world.  Never again be misunderstood!  Never again waste a good sarcastic line on someone who doesn’t get it!

The idea of having to pay to use the SarcMark seems a little weird to me and also antithetical to promoting its widespread use. But I’m just an editor, what do I know about marketing? There’s also a part of me that bristles at the idea of introducing new punctuation, but I want to be open-minded, as McKean urges:

This kind of novel punctuation tends to be sniffed at by purists, but history isn’t on the purists’ side. All punctuation marks were once new inventions to make writing clearer. Periods (or full stops) were used first to separate words, which previouslyallrantogetherlikethis, with other marks following as needed: the comma to indicate where to take a breath, the exclamation point to indicate emphasis, and so on. Ancient manuscripts sometimes included marks to convey the copyists’ opinions about the text itself, such as the obelus ( -or ÷) used to indicate a “doubtful or spurious” passage.

Mainly, I’m just not sure we have a real use for it. I mean, for example, I’m comfortable with the idea of the interrobang, but I think that’s partly because it just formalizes an idea (the joined question mark/exclamation point) that is already effectively and organically in use. Having said that, I don’t actually use the interrobang. The SarcMark seems superfluous, sort of antithetical to the idea of sarcasm. If a person doesn’t already get that what you are saying is sarcastic, do you really want to point it out to them? As McKean comments, “One of the reasons to employ sarcasm is enjoying the possibility—often, the probability—that your sarcastic remark will sail right over the target’s head.”

The folks at Open Sarcasm, on the other hand, have a real problem with the SarcMark. They have a whole website, with a manifesto and so on, decrying the concept of a licensed punctuation mark for identifying sarcasm:

Of late, certain capitalist forces have brought forth onto the internet the idea that sarcasmists everywhere must license and download their proprietary new “punctuation”—called the “SarcMark”®—in order to clarify sarcasm in their writing.

A growing chorus of voices has joined together to decry this idea. It is high time that Open Sarcasmists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Open Sarcasm with a manifesto of the punctuation itself.

For additional comments, check out the Sarcasmist’s World Peace Can’t Be Far Behind Now That the Sarcasm Mark Has Been Created.

So what do you think? Is the SarcMark some kind of elaborate joke on punctuation peevologists? Is there room is this town for another punctuation mark?


  1. I am unalterably opposed to the notion of having to pay to use any sort of punctuation. The very idea is asinine. Next, they’ll be charging me for being sarcastic in the first place.

    Comment by David — February 20, 2010 @ 2:04 am | Reply

  2. Sarcasm must be free! Punctuation for the people!

    Comment by OpenSarcasm — February 20, 2010 @ 10:33 pm | Reply

  3. The idea of paying for a superfluous punctuation mark is absurd, the more so when the mark looks like a lost embryo. If I saw SarcMarks used “in the wild”, I would probably assume that their users had little faith in the effectiveness of their writing.

    Comment by Stan — February 24, 2010 @ 9:19 am | Reply

  4. They are giving the SarcMark away. If you go to their site http://www.sarcmark.com, you can see for yourself. I’m not sure why you’re saying they’re charging for it.

    Comment by Bill Schfitz — March 8, 2010 @ 10:41 am | Reply

    • Give me a break, Bill. You know perfectly well that the SarcMark costs $1.99 and that giving it away “free” NOW is a “limited time offer.”

      Comment by mighty red pen — March 8, 2010 @ 10:53 am | Reply

  5. I am against innovation in punctuation on principle (let’s face it, people have enough difficulty with the punctuation we already have), but it is sometimes difficult in modern modes of communication to interpret the sincerity of the writer: no facial or body cues as in speaking, and excessive numbers of abbreviations and code words which make text messages and tweets exceedingly cryptic.

    Comment by Carey Bligard — March 11, 2010 @ 12:03 am | Reply

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