The Mark of Sarcasm

Bibliophiles, intimate friends of Strunk and White and those who know how to properly punctuate “Eats, Shoots and Leaves,” hearken to me now: there is an imposter in our midst.

Sarcasm is a fine tool for the overly-literate to communicate their message of disdain and irony without simply saying so. To its masters, sarcasm is one of the last less-lethal weapons to fend off the ignorant; to its victims, it’s a snide jab by pretentious blowhards to assert their erudite training without actually solving the problem. Its use is contended by the highest literary courts and its delivery almost completely dependent on tone and body language. As such, sarcasm unleashed in the text-only world runs rampant without the certainty of nasal delivery or rolled eyes. Many a dramatic message has been taken Way Too Seriously and caused its own bloodbath of miscommunication.

To stave off the text-sparked massacres of the future, Michigan-based brothers Douglas and Paul Sak have descended from the mount with their answer: the SarcMark. Their plot? Throw down this bastardized @-sign after a particularly bitchy sentence to ensure the reader that, yes, OF COURSE it wasn’t to be taken seriously. See? Right there, the SarcMark could’ve been applied to the end of that sentence of hypothetical situation to keep readers from assuming the worst. And, heck, you readers would be duly informed of the approximate tone to that sentence. It works!

Sure sport, and so does fascism. Just like living under an oppressive regime, nailing down your exact intention robs sarcasm of its wiggle room to be creatively interpreted and unmasked by the smart cookies you just tested with your wit. Instead of receiving a “Clever girl!” and conciliatory nod from your opponent (via text), you’ll get an equally bland response devoid of any strenuously conceived subtlety, and all because the end of that sentence tells you straight up not to be taken seriously, like any movie with the Wayans brothers.

The problem is not that Mr. and Mr. Sak are wrong – quite the contrary, as the SarcMark would indeed cure text-only messages from their troublesome tendency to be interpreted incorrectly. In making our intentions more explicit, however, we’re essentially dumbing down our communication and crippling our ability to interpret subtlety and multiple meanings in a single message.

Dear reader, think of the children, growing up in the Wild West of the Internet and learning the ins and outs of text-based chatting and flirting and discussing. Why, they may not leave the Internet for days at a time and dismiss speech as a medium of the elders! Why cripple their exploration of the World Wide Web with the sheltered bubble of explicit meaning in a sentence? Growing minds need to bloody their linguistic noses on misinterpreted phrases and embarrassing faux pas while attempting to communicate with the outside world. The SarcMark will coddle these formative young minds into expecting explicit direction from the massive amount of information thrust upon them in text form.

While it may be attractive to alleviate the temporary confusion of text communication, this solution, to paraphrase Richard Dreyfuss, will only come to bite us in the ass when our children lack the experience to be skeptical of and critically analyze any wayward info life vomits before them. So stand tall, friends, and reject this upstart punctuation that threatens to dumb down our diction: pretentious America needs thee.