This post is about a treacherous piece of punctuation called the irony mark. You might never have heard of this symbol, but it dates back to the 1580s. It is written as a reversed question mark, and it is meant to indicate irony and/or sarcasm.
To introduce the irony mark, I’ve come up with a one-line manifesto for the product, the best sales pitch I can think of. So, here is the #1 reason why you should place the irony mark at the end of your sentences:
If that leaves you cold, I offer another condensation of the philosophy behind the irony mark:
At this point, I’d like to make a few things explicit:
- You might notice that I seem to be conflating irony and sarcasm. Don’t mind me, I’m just being sarcastic.
- You might wonder whether the slogans above are meant to be sarcastic. Of course they are—they end with the irony mark!
- You might wonder whether I’m making fun of the idea of the irony mark. I’m NOT making fun of the irony mark.
Well, I am teasing the irony mark, a little. But I’m only doing it because I want the irony mark. I’d give anything for an effortless way of signaling to perfect strangers that I’m being ironic. Bliss, to me, would be knowing that whenever I wrote something with a double, triple, or quadruple meaning, my reader would see all of those meanings and select the right one. Unfortunately, the joke’s on me. The irony mark has taken me for a ride.
Please look again at the image above. Do you see an irony mark at the end of the sentence? When I first published that image, I thought I’d gotten it wrong. I stared at it once, and then a second time, and I swear the irony mark appeared to me as a normal question mark:
I was mortified, because my joke about “not teasing” the irony mark would have fallen flat without a real irony mark at the end… to be teased.
I needed to stare at a proper question mark for several seconds before I could perceive the irony mark as an irony mark again. Later, I experienced the same illusion: the irony mark flipped into a question mark!
And so I leave you with this warning message about the irony mark, showing where it’s gotten me—this is my brain on the irony mark:
If it ain’t got the irony mark, it ain’t got the irony⸮
Sarcasm must be punctuated⸮
I’m not making fun of the irony mark⸮