Puget Sound English Department

February 24, 2010

The Death of Irony

Apparently, the move to embrace the “snark”–a new mark of punctuation intended to help readers interpret irony or sarcasm–is gaining ground. The mark–for those of you whose communication devices lack it–is most simply indicated by adding a tilde (~) immediately after the period following a sentence meant to be read ironically, or sarcastically. The creators of The Snark’s self-appointed official website (“Home of the Verbal Irony Mark”) offer a history of attempts to designate irony, presumably as wielded by authors less skilled that Jonathan Swift, whose 1729 satire “A Modest Proposal” is, I believe, still the gold standard for literary irony.

The site also offers a somewhat apologetic explanation for the slippage between sarcasm and irony, deferring to the linguistic gods of popular usage (see “FAQs”), along with instructions for adding the snark to your compositional and punctuational arsenal (usefully provided along a continuum from borderline-computer-illiterate users to the highly technologically savvy).

Will it catch on? Should it? If verbal irony is made visible to everyone, will it still be…well…ironic? Or does part of the effect of irony rely on its potential for exclusivity?

Your English faculty await the latest developments in this saga with bated breath.~

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