Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What's Next? The Eye-Roll Mark?

So Sarcasm Inc., apparently a company of some sort in Michigan, has invented a sarcasm punctuation mark. Take a gander, or a goose if you so choose:

For the amazingly low, low price of $1.99, this company will send you a bit of software that will allow you to reproduce this punctuation mark through that lovely CRTL+greater than key combination. It's not clear whether the little restricted trademark symbol will also be replicated.

This led me to wondering: When was the last punctuation mark-related breakthrough? What was the last bit of punctuation to be invented? Emoticons, probably, but I'm not going to count them because they're merely strings of existing punctuation marks. So, do we go with the colon? The semicolon? Which came first, the whole colon or the half? The "@" symbol? Can't be. That's been used for more than a century at least. Let's see what the Internet has to say.

Wikipedia tells us of the "question comma" and the "exclamation comma," patented in 1992. They provide no pictorials. I think it was a prank. Then there is the "double comma" designed by Russian Artemy Lebedev. He apparently thought the double comma would indicate more of a pause than does the current, fashionalbe, and stylish semi-colon. Leave it up to the Russians to try to develop a new punctuation mark to take over the job of an old one.

So maybe Sarcasm Inc. is on to something here. Or maybe not. After all, while the folks at MIT developed the Smoot as a new unit of measure, it hasn't caught on anywhere else outside of Cambridge. So maybe the sarcasm mark -- which looks like an unmentionable object circling in a flushed toilet -- will catch on, but for $1.99, you won't find one here. I, for one, believe punctuation should be free. Or at least phonetic, as Victor Borge demonstrates:

Odd thing is, however, they may have a point. I've learned from experience both in ordinary online forums and in more formal online forums, including class forums, that sometimes a sarcastic remark can't be read that way by others -- and that can cause trouble, from hurt feelings to a good old-fashioned flame war. Some have taken to posting things like "/sarcasm/" when they're being sarcastic, so Sarcasm Inc. is simply looking for a shorthand way to do that. If it catches on, their new punctuation mark could be a hit. but I'm not sure selling it for $1.99 will get it into the mainstream. It's interesting to see, however, how the spoken word is used far more often than the written word in such instances -- and it shows how unable some are to pick up on sarcasm if it's written, in the absence of aural and visual cues. Frank Smith, I think, would love this.

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