Wednesday, January 20, 2010


by Miriam

It’s hard not to be amused by the SarcMark and the notion that writers need a symbol to express sarcasm. And yet, I worry that this new emoticon (someone’s already peddling the software that will add it seamlessly to your happy/sad face repertoire) is just another way to dumb down the writing process. If you can’t convey sarcasm on the page (or the screen) with the right combination of syntactical elements such as repetition, hyperbole, and oppositional concepts--and a dash of general mean spiritedness--well then you probably should just resort to being earnest.

Can you imagine these people using a SarcMark?

“No, Groucho is not my real name. I am breaking it in for a friend.” – Groucho Marx

“You have delighted us long enough.” – Jane Austen

“He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” – Winston Churchill

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” – Mark Twain.

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” – William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” – Ernest Hemingway


  1. They wouldn't even consider it! These writers are without a doubt the masters of language, no tools necessary.

  2. I couldn't agree with you more. These trends in writing are cause for concern. Too many people use these 'shortcuts' and loose the opportunity to sharpen their writing. I have a feeling that it's only going to get worse.

  3. I had never even heard of the SarcMark until I came across this post. But I agree that writers absolutely shouldn't rely on it. I sometimes have to fight the temptation to show sarcasm by italicizing the stressed word(s) in a sentence, and that's bad enough. (Thankfully I've gotten better at this; the temptation really only surfaces when a character is saying something in a very exaggerated manner.) With good writing, the reader should be able to "hear" the sentence well enough to get the sarcasm without it being pointed out through formatting.

  4. I agree too! Emoticons drive me wild. They remind me of those twee little symbols in beginning readers that help children remember nouns. Reading is all about weaving words into clever stories. Smiley faces are too much like cheating.

  5. Never heard of this. Interesting.

  6. An old English teacher of mine used to describe the exclamation mark as 'punctuation to indicate when a sentence was meant to be funny', so I suspect he wouldn't like emoticons.

    They serve a purpose online, where it isn't always easy to distinguish irony from genuine lunacy and where lunatics are a little thicker on the ground than Austen-level wits.

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