Introducing the long-awaited sarcasm point.

Dubious and far-fetched ideas.
Dec. 21 2004 6:28 AM

A Giant Step Forward for Punctuation¡

Introducing the long-awaited sarcasm point.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

The English language must evolve. Not with emoticons or lol or brb or l8r or GRATUITOUS all caps used for emphasis, not with Spanglish or bumbling Bushisms or even cryptic Kerryisms. We don't need more quotation marks that "hedge" or try to make the same "old" thing sound "fresh." What we need is an honest effort to incorporate the way we live today. My fellow Americans, we need to embrace a new punctuation mark—one that embraces the irony and edge of contemporary conversation and clarifies rather than condenses or confuses.

It is time for the adoption of the sarcasm point. Why the sarcasm point? We have a mark that conveys that we mean or know something. We have one that says it with volume and force! We have one that communicates that we don't know something, don't we? We need one more: to do for language what shade did for drawing, what color did for television, and what eyebrows did for expressions—introduce finesse.

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The problem is simple. We live in a whiplash, light-speed world in which motion can range, within minutes, from standstill to supersonic, decibel levels range from NPR to Limbaugh, and the range of sincerity can shoot from earnest to irreverent in nanoseconds.

Believe it or not, the world we've landed in is not only more image-obsessed than we've ever seen. It's also more text-based than ever. We finger-type and we thumb-type. We e-mail, we IM, we blog. And the forms cannot contain the content. There's a dastardly disconnect. Among other things, it makes Dave Barry columns somewhat difficult to read. Someone must step into the sarcasm chasm¡

I'm serious¡ See, there are people who are relentlessly sincere. So, what are they supposed to do when they're trying to sound a bit bitter? Suppose you're IM'ing that oft-earnest friend you have, and he writes: "I need to go to church tomorrow and confess the jealousy in my heart." You forget—have you ever heard him say nice things about God or do the opposite? "Wait … do you really?" "Sorry. I mean, I need to go to church tomorrow¡To confess my jealousy¡ And the fact that I just renewed my subscription to Maxim¡" "Oh. Me too. Only as a Jew, I must do these things in synagogue¡"

And then there are people who are relentlessly sarcastic. How do we know when they're being straight? The other day my brother told me he respected Colin Powell. I had no idea what he was trying to say.

The sarcasm point can strengthen our communities and unite our broader culture¡

Sarcasm purists, Norm McDonald, and his acolytes might be troubled by all this talk. Good sarcasm, they'll tell you, is cueless. It trips dishonestly off the tongue. "What I'm looking forward to in prison is the prospect of anal rape." Telegraph your insincerity and the thrill is gone. Announce it and your friends won't experience the same delight in the spasm of sarcasm you use to praise the president.

The other day I told my girlfriend I loved her. I did it on Yahoo! Instant Messenger. And the sarcasm just didn't come across.

I grant that blue states will be at the vanguards in anointing the new sarcasm point. We'll use it in our MoveOn action alerts. We'll teach it our public schools, in those grammar classes they fail to teach. We will type it with excitable hands in Bruckheimer scripts and lace it in our advertising.

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