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It Isn't Ironic

A recent thread at Typophile ponders what might be used as a punctuation mark to express irony. The suggestion so far, picking things up from here and here (that last one's a French Wikipedia article, in case wants to leave a translation in the comments), is to use something like a backwards question mark, based on the Arabic question mark. Frankly, I think using a normal piece of Arabic punctuation when want to suggest you don't really mean what you say could turn out to be really, really bad form.

I still advocate the system of sarcasm marks that I brought up earlier. With a little finessing to the look of the marks themselves, you have a nice system for adapting marks we already use that convey different levels of emotion or tone. I think it's time we start the movement to add sarcasm and irony to Unicode — now! Can you just imagine all the Internet flame wars that could be avoided if we could just make it clear when we say something facetious?

Comments (3)

1) Cement Brunette: Considering everything that comes out of my mouth, pen, and keyboard is complete sarcasm, this is a fine development. (Jan 9, 2006 11:02 PM)

2) darren: i'm totally in favor of this. let's start a useless petition! (Jan 11, 2006 6:53 AM)

3) ian:

The French Wikipedia entry translates, roughly, as:

Irony point

The irony point, a reversed question mark, is a punctuation mark placed at the end of a phrase to indicate that the phrase should not be taken at face value.


This mark was proposed by the French poet Alcanter de Brahm (alias Marcel Bernhardt) at the end of the 19th century. It was taken up by Herve Bazin in his book 'Plumons l'oiseau' (Let's Pluck the Bird, 1966), where the author also suggests other new punctuation marks, including marks to signify doubt, certainty, applause, authority, indignation and admiration.

It was made famous by Agnes b. in 1997 in her art magazine "Point d'ironie".


His conversation was not at all boring *
A truly beautiful work of art *
Hurrah for the Army * (in L'Ostensoir des ironies vol III p.18).


This mark has never been used in real life, beyond occasional appearances in artistic or literary publications, and then only as a novelty rather than a significant typographic symbol.

Various rationales have been advanced to account for its lack of success:

- Question marks and the exclamation marks generally serve to transcribe an ironically-delivered spoken phrase. Failing that, punctuation alone is not enough to signal intention. There are often times when context alone reveals the ironic intention. Besides which, ironists enjoy playing on the ambiguity of their intentions.

- Individual phrases, as opposed to complete texts, are rarely ironic by themselves. Using this unusual mark again and again in a passage of several pages would get in the way of reading.

- The 'smiley', as used informally by 'internauts', already serves as a simple method of underlining the ironic nature of a phrase ;-)

In design and printing

Although this mark has never been officially adopted by typographers, it turns out to be identical to the reverse question mark used in Arabic. The irony point can thus be represented by the Unicode character 1567 ou 0x061F.

(Jan 14, 2006 10:11 AM)

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