Open main menu

Irony punctuation is any proposed form of notation used to denote irony or sarcasm in text. Written English lacks a standard way to mark irony, and several forms of punctuation have been proposed. Among the oldest and most frequently attested is the percontation point proposed by English printer Henry Denham in the 1580s, and the irony mark, used by Marcellin Jobard and French poet Alcanter de Brahm during the 19th century. Both marks take the form of a reversed question mark, "⸮".

Irony punctuation
apostrophe  '
brackets [ ]  ( )  { }  ⟨ ⟩
colon :
comma ,  ،  
dash ‒  –  —  ―
ellipsis  ...  . . .      
exclamation mark !
full stop, period .
guillemets ‹ ›  « »
hyphen-minus -
question mark ?
quotation marks ‘ ’  “ ”  ' '  " "
semicolon ;
slash, stroke, solidus /    
Word dividers
interpunct ·
General typography
ampersand &
asterisk *
at sign @
backslash \
basis point
caret ^
dagger † ‡ ⹋
degree °
ditto mark ” 〃
equals sign =
inverted exclamation mark ¡
inverted question mark ¿
komejirushi, kome, reference mark
multiplication sign ×
number sign, pound, hash #
numero sign
obelus ÷
ordinal indicator º ª
percent, per mil % ‰
plus, minus + −
plus-minus, minus-plus ± ∓
section sign §
tilde ~
underscore, understrike _
vertical bar, pipe, broken bar |    ¦
Intellectual property
copyright ©
copyleft 🄯
sound-recording copyright
registered trademark ®
service mark
currency sign ¤

؋฿¢$֏ƒ£元 圆 圓 ¥

Uncommon typography
fleuron, hedera
index, fist
irony punctuation
In other scripts

Irony punctuation is primarily used to indicate that a sentence should be understood at a second level. A bracketed exclamation point or question mark as well as scare quotes are also sometimes used to express irony or sarcasm.

Percontation pointEdit

The percontation point ( ) , a reversed question mark later referred to as a rhetorical question mark, was proposed by Henry Denham in the 1580s and was used at the end of a question that does not require an answer—a rhetorical question. Its use died out in the 17th century.[1] This character can be represented using the reversed question mark (⸮) found in Unicode as U+2E2E; another character approximating it is the Arabic question mark (؟), U+061F.

The modern question mark (? U+003F) is descended from the "punctus interrogativus" (described as "a lightning flash, striking from right to left"),[2] but unlike the modern question mark, the punctus interrogativus may be contrasted with the punctus percontativus—the former marking questions that require an answer while the latter marks rhetorical questions.[3]

Irony markEdit

In 1668, John Wilkins, in An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, proposed using an inverted exclamation mark to punctuate ironic statements.[4] In 1841, Marcellin Jobard, a Belgian newspaper publisher, introduced an irony mark in the shape of an oversized arrow head with small stem (rather like an ideogram of a Christmas Tree). The next year he expanded his idea, suggesting the symbol could be used in various orientations (on its side, upside down, etc.) to mark "a point of irritation, an indignation point, a point of hesitation".[5]

Irony mark as designed by Alcanter de Brahm in a French encyclopedia from 1905[6]

The irony point (⸮) (French: point d'ironie) was proposed by the French poet Alcanter de Brahm (alias Marcel Bernhardt) in his 1899 book L'ostensoir des ironies to indicate that a sentence should be understood at a second level (irony, sarcasm, etc.). It is illustrated by a glyph resembling, but not identical to, a small, elevated, backward-facing question mark.[3] The same mark was used earlier by Marcellin Jobard in an article dated June 11, 1841, and commented in an 1842 report.[7]

Hervé Bazin, in his 1966 essay Plumons l'Oiseau ("Let's pluck the bird"), used the Greek letter ψ with a dot below for the same purpose ( ).[8] In the same work, the author proposed five other innovative punctuation marks: the "doubt point" ( ), "conviction point" ( ), "acclamation point" ( ), "authority point" ( ), and "love point" ( ).[9]

In March 2007, the Dutch foundation CPNB (Collectieve Propaganda van het Nederlandse Boek) presented another design of an irony mark, the ironieteken: ( ).[10][11]

Reverse italicsEdit

Tom Driberg recommended that ironic statements should be printed in italics that lean the other way from conventional italics.[12]

Scare quotesEdit

Scare quotes are a particular use of quotation marks. They are placed around a word or phrase to indicate that it is not used in the fashion that the writer would personally use it. In contrast to the nominal typographic purpose of quotation marks, the enclosed words are not necessarily quoted from another source. When read aloud, various techniques are used to convey the sense, such as prepending the addition of "so-called" or a similar word or phrase of disdain, using a sarcastic or mocking tone, or using air quotes, or any combination of the above.

Temherte slaqîEdit

In certain Ethiopic languages, sarcasm and unreal phrases are indicated at the end of a sentence with a sarcasm mark called temherte slaqî or temherte slaq, a character that looks like the inverted exclamation point (U+00A1) ( ¡ ).[13]

Other typographyEdit

Rhetorical questions in some informal situations can use a bracketed question mark, e.g., "Oh, really[?]". The equivalent for an ironic or sarcastic statement would be a bracketed exclamation mark, e.g., "Oh, really[!]".[citation needed] Subtitles, such as in Teletext, sometimes use an exclamation mark within brackets or parentheses to mark sarcasm.[citation needed]

It is common in online conversation among some Internet users to use an XML closing tag: </sarcasm>. The tag is often written only after the sarcasm so as to momentarily trick the reader before admitting the joke. Over time, it has evolved to lose the angle brackets (/sarcasm) and has subsequently been shortened to /sarc or /s (not to be confused with the HTML end tag </s> used to end a struck-through passage).[14]

Another example is bracketing text with the symbol for the element iron (<Fe> and </Fe>) in order to denote irony.[citation needed] Typing in all-capital letters, and emoticons like "Rolling eyes", ":>", and ":P," as well as using the "victory hand" dingbat / emoji ( ) character to simulate air quotes, are often used as well[citation needed], particularly in instant messaging, while a Twitter-style hashtag, #sarcasm, is also increasingly common.[15]

The use of the ":^)" emoticon has recently[when?] taken hold in a subset[who?] of internet users to punctuate facetious or otherwise sarcastic commentary.[citation needed] In many gaming communities, the word "Kappa" is frequently used to display sarcasm as well as joking intent. This is due to the word acting as an emoticon on, a livestreaming site, where it has gained popularity for such purpose.[16]

It is also common to use the combination of an open-parenthesis and a interrogation symbol as "(?" to mark irony.[citation needed]

A "SarcMark" symbol requiring custom computer font software was proposed in 2010.[17]

Another method of expressing sarcasm is by placing a tilde (~) adjacent to the punctuation. This allows for easy use with any keyboard, as well as variation. Variations include dry sarcasm (~.), enthusiastic sarcasm (~!), and sarcastic questions (~?). The sports blog Card Chronicle has adopted this methodology by inserting (~) after the period at the end of the sentence.[18] It has also been adopted by the Udacity Machine Learning Nanodegree community.[19]

College Humor jokingly proposed new marks called “sarcasticies” which resemble ragged, or zig-zagged parentheses, used to enclose sarcastic remarks.[20]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Truss 2003, p. 142
  2. ^ "Interrogativus.png". TypoWiki. Archived from the original on 2007-10-12.
  3. ^ a b Everson, Michael; Baker, Peter; Dohnicht, Marcus; Emiliano, António; Haugen, Odd Einar; Pedro, Susana; Perry, David J.; Pournader, Roozbeh (April 10, 2016). "Proposal to add Medievalist and Iranianist punctuation characters to the UCS" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-04-10. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Houston 2013, pp. 212–214
  5. ^ Houston 2013, pp. 215–217
  6. ^ Claude Augé, ed. (1897–1905). "Ironie (irony)". Nouveau Larousse illustré. 5. Paris. p. 329{{inconsistent citations}}
  7. ^ Marcellin JOBARD, "Industrie française: rapport sur l'exposition de 1839 – Volume II, p. 350-351." French industry, report on the 1839 exhibition, Vol 2 pp. 350–351 (French text available on-line)
  8. ^ Bazin, Hervé (1966). "Plumons l'oiseau". Paris (France): Éditions Bernard Grasset: 142{{inconsistent citations}} Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ Yevstifeyev, Mykyta; Pentzlin, Karl (Feb 28, 2012). "Revised preliminary proposal to encode six punctuation characters introduced by Hervé Bazin in the UCS" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-05-07. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ "Nieuw: een leesteken voor ironie" (in Dutch). Stichting Collectieve Propaganda van het Nederlandse Boek (CPNB). 2007-03-13. Archived from the original on 2008-10-03. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  11. ^ "Leesteken moet ironie verduidelijken" (in Dutch). 2007-03-15. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  12. ^ Houston 2013, p. 227
  13. ^ Asteraye Tsigie; Berhanu Beyene; Daniel Aberra; Daniel Yacob (1999). "A Roadmap to the Extension of the Ethiopic Writing System Standard Under Unicode and ISO-10646" (PDF). 15th International Unicode Conference. p. 6.
  14. ^ Khodak, Mikhail; Saunshi, Nikunj; Vodrahalli, Kiran (7–12 May 2018). "A Large Self-Annotated Corpus for Sarcasm" (PDF). Proceedings of the Language Resources and Evaluation Conference: 1. Retrieved 8 February 2019.
  15. ^ Kunneman, Florian; Liebrecht, Christine; van Mulken, Margot; van den Bosch, Antal (July 2015). "Signaling sarcasm: From hyperbole to hashtag". Information Processing & Management. 51 (4): 500–509. doi:10.1016/j.ipm.2014.07.006.
  16. ^ David Goldenberg (21 October 2015). "How Kappa Became The Face Of Twitch". FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved 5 February 2018.
  17. ^ "Nieuw leesteken waarschuwt voor sarcasme en ironie" [New punctuation mark warns of sarcasm and irony]. (in Dutch). 18 October 2010. Archived from the original on 12 May 2013. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
  18. ^ Mr_Hobbes (5 August 2014). "The Guide to Card Chronicle's memes / inside jokes / quirks". Card Chronicle. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  19. ^ "Community Guidelines§A few things to consider". MLND Wiki. 14 August 2017. Retrieved 14 August 2017 – via GitHub.
  20. ^ "8 new and necessary punctuation marks". College Humor. February 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2019.


  • Houston, Keith (2013). Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks. New York & London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-393-06442-1.
  • Truss, Lynne (2003). Eats, Shoots & Leaves. ISBN 1-59240-087-6.

External linksEdit