An interesting side effect of my mother being deaf was that she didn't understand sarcasm at all. Sarcasm is all in tone, and well, that was something she couldn't hear. I have to say, it kept me honest out of guilt on occasion. A friend was having a keg party and brought the bucket for the keg to my house. My mom asked what it was for and my response was "It's for bobbing for apples, ma." Her reply? "Oh, how many apples do you need?"
I couldn't let that one continue. I'm not that shameless.
I have often been bothered by the fact that there is no reliable way to indicate sarcasm in written English. In online forums I have seen people use <sarcasm> </sarcasm>, which is admittedly very accessible. But somehow lacks the subtlety which makes sarcasm so fun.

I propose that we create a punctuation mark to indicate sarcasm, something like the exclamation mark or question mark which have the ability to express emotion in a character. Of course, I doubt that I could convince people to update all their keyboards, the ASCII code and their fonts, so I think that we need to use a character already there.

I great choice I think would be the under-utilized "|", also known as the pipe. One could say, for example, |Bill Gates just wants to make good software|, and all the subtle layers of intended irony would just leap into view.

It would also give a new meaning to "ls -a | more". I'm not sure what meaning, but it would be new.
These entertaining and informative writeups really do convey what it means to be sarcastic; It's true, there was no way to express sarcasm in writing before the Internet existed.


The thing about sarcasm is that it's at its best when it's subtle. Personally, I think that the "(sarcasm)(/sarcasm)" bit spoils the effect- It's a bit like telling someone "This is a joke.." before telling them one of those jokes which you're supposed to tell as if it's a serious story.

So I prefer to just add the ending (/sarcasm) bit, in case the reader missed the subtlety... :)
Sarcasm is the protest of people who are weak.

-- Gene Forrester in A Separate Peace by John Knowles

The point, I think, is an important one. Sarcasm is often used to deride or belittle a person or an idea euphemistically. Sometimes the speaker avoids plain-spoken criticism to soften the blow, or for fear of reprisal. Sometimes sarcasm poses as a shorthand to mask vagueness, handwaving, or unformed thoughts.

Sarcasm is what's wrong with the kids today. It is ripping apart the fabric of society. Okay seriously...

The difficulty of conveying sarcasm through writing (in any language) derives from the fact that sarcasm involves an interaction between the linguistic and paralinguistic layers of speech, particularly between pragmatics and prosody.

That's the book-larnin' way of saying that in sarcasm, your prosody (intonations, pauses, beats, essentially the rhythm and music of your voice) contradicts the literal meaning of your speech. Prosody is responsible for lots of other things, too, like letting us know that a sentence was either a question or was emitted from a representative of a particular stereotype, or that the word is import, not import, or a bunch of other uses, it's the Swiss army knife of speech phenomena. While it's not totally lost, prosody is imperfectly reproduced in writing.

Anyway, this gives you a clue on how to best convey sarcasm within the conventions of written English. Punctuation--particularly dashes, and of course, well...ellipsis, are closely related to prosody, and we mustn't forget italics. With the addition of judicious spelling, if you're lucky, you can clue in the reader to the way you would have spoken a sentence.

“Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't know you were French.”

“Oh, I'm sooooo sorry...I didn't know you were French!

Yes, I study this. No, I'm not kidding.

This information hub (and the political aspects of it in particular) demands more sarcasm. Not only does sarcasm verify your status as a pinnacle of wit and enhance the validity of your case, it will fatally wound any argument the opposition has made to date and cause your nemesis to depart to a parental figure or significant other, sobbing at your dazzling riposte. It is more than likely that you will convert them to your perspective very quickly. Sarcasm is never infantile, divisive or baselessly rude. Anyone who claims this is so is equipped with a pre-school intellect and should be dealt with as such. This means condescension, in case you didn’t know.

So if I posted a loaded topic with the title "War is good" and then proceeded to write with an implied Texan drawl and poor grammar (or, conversely, "War is, like, bad, maaaan..." with the appropriate exploitation of linguistic idiosyncrasies and logical fallacies), I ought to be regarded as the next Oscar Wilde. Factor in as many insinuations of morally reprehensible behaviour on the part of the opposing side as you can. It doesn't matter if they're accurate - you just made them accurate. Similarly, racism and ideology-based slurs are substantiative and will generally increase the level of logic-trampling aggression (which I think we can all agree is a desirable goal, or else).

Italics and bold text can do anything. Anything.

Repeat your arguments in progressively more simplistic terms to anyone who raises queries (they obviously wouldn't understand anyway), denotes erroneous statistics (which can prove anything beyond the merest vestige of doubt, context notwithstanding) or attempts to respond in kind (it doesn't work when they do it). Repetition is a potent tool with which to bludgeon your opponent into submission. If they cease to respond, you can claim incontrovertible victory. Personalise every dispute - that's right, Mr./Mrs./Ms. (your surname) of (your address), whose significant other I frequently engage in illicit acts with, your argument makes "like, so much sense it blows my mind, because I ‘am’ impressed by your ‘succinct style’ and ‘laudable stance’." I also have pictures of you.

Be a pedant. Come on, it feels good and if they repeatedly tautologise unnecessarily for no reason, they're just asking for it. You cannot make grammatical errors, or if you do they are either the product of a defective keyboard or in no way undermine the integrity of your argument. Maintain this always. Thoroughly scrutinise every post for the slightest floor. Flaw, even.

Homogenise everyone because they are all the same. See them? They're tree hugging hippies, so their brains are addled by hallucinogens which they purchased with unemployment benefit money (you might wish to note here that unemployment benefits are excessive and that you find their hairstyles offensive). And those conservative Bible-thumpers - I've never previously encountered a group who, without exception, promptly need to be turned into pillars of salt.

Be provocative, stupid. It helps the conversation flow.

For the benefit of those not endowed with your scathing wit (and let's be brutally honest here), you might want to provide a disclaimer*; not everyone can keep pace with you, you great big shining star.

*Like this, which would tell you that I am being sarcastic, if I was. I'm not, though.

Sar"casm (?), n. [F. sarcasme, L. sarcasmu, Gr. to tear flesh like dogs, to bite the lips in rage, to speak bitterly, to sneer, fr. , , flesh.]

A keen, reproachful expression; a satirical remark uttered with some degree of scorn or contempt; a taunt; a gibe; a cutting jest.

The sarcasms of those critics who imagine our art to be a matter of inspiration. Sir J. Reynolds.

Syn. -- Satire; irony; ridicule; taunt; gibe.


© Webster 1913.

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