Sarcasm Punctuation? Like We Really Need That

Can SarcMark Do Something Smiley Face Can't?

Scott E. Fahlman, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist and the man considered the "father of the smiley face," has his own doubts about the SarcMark.

"I don't see what it does that the good ol' smiley face doesn't do, and the one I invented is free," he said.

On Sept. 19, 1982, he wrote an e-mail proposing that a sideways smiley face :-) be "used in joke matters."

"In electronic communication, it's very useful to say 'I'm only kidding,'" he said. If you write satirical prose, in the style of Jonathan Swift or Mark Twain, he said, "Half the fun is not knowing if they're serious or not."

But in electronic communication, the context is very different. Not everyone has the literary skill to pull it off successfully and on message boards, for example, one misread sarcastic note can set off a distracting deluge of disgruntled messages.

"You just send a note with a sarcastic wisecrack and it can really start a fight," he said. "I think this guy got one thing right. It's useful to have a sarcasm mark, but I don't think we need a new font convention for that."

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