Introducing the Irony Mark

Despite the less than positive comments for the Interrobang, I would like to advocate for more sentence-end punctuation options. I spend a lot of time communicating in writing with email and IM, and wish I had more options for expression. Take the following example:

Friend: Britney is planning to have another baby to save her marriage with KFed.
Me: God Bless America

What is the proper punctuation mark for my response? A period might be appropriate if I thought it was a good idea to rely on a baby to resolve marital difficulties, and an exclamation mark if I was feeling enthusiastic about it. A question mark might be appropriate if I had no opinion on the matter. Even the interrobang isn’t right here, I need something far more sarcastic.

I need a mark that clearly conveys the ridiculousness of such a plan. Without it, my intentions may be misread by a reader who doesn’t know me well. I’m not the first to advocate for an irony mark. Such a mark has already been invented as a backwards question mark. Unfortunately the irony mark does not appear in the ClearType font collection.

I foresee a future where I exclusively use the irony mark for punctuation

Kevin Larson


Edit: Update Image Reference

Comments (36)

  1. John Hudson says:

    You could use the Arabic question mark character, which is a right-to-left reading question mark ؟*. This could lead to some interesting bidirectional text processing challenges, especially if Arabs started using the European ? to indicate irony.

    *Note however that Hebrew uses a European ? question mark; not sure about other RTL languages.

  2. i was having a discussion with my wife the other day about the problems of the world, and we agreed that adding sentence end punctuation options to the english language would solve most of them…

    uhm, yah. 🙂 Though i often find "…" appropriate for conveying sarcasm, a dedicated character could be fun- at the same time, tho, jokes aern’t funny if you have to explain them; sarcasm is deflated if you punctuate it with a mark that specificially says, "just in case you are diagnosed with aspergers syndrome, that last sentence was menat to be sarcastic…".

  3. Paul says:

    I am of the opinion that the very idea of sarcasm is that you are meant to pick it up from context. Clearly indicating something is sarcastic is at best redundant, and at worst either insulting the reader ("you are too stupid or don’t know me well enough to work out this is sarcastic") or insulting to the author ("I can’t construct sarcastic comments so they can be determined by context").

    If think, that when in IM, if you’d added a 🙂 to the end of your phrase people would pick up that you are in some way being humourous.

    However, I can see a use for this with SMS messages, where putting something in context can be harder due to the limitations in length and input format.

    Theres no harm in developing these punctuation marks, I’m just not sure they are required.

  4. PatriotB says:

    Back in school I had a friend who sometimes, upon ending a sarcastic remark, would make a slash through the air with his finger and say sarcasm–to convey </sarcasm> (end sarcasm html-ized). Sometimes that would just be shortened to just the in-air slash. Now, when IMming, I sometimes find myself using a slash by itself at the end of a sarcastic sentence.

  5. A UK reader... says:

    yeah, great idea.

  6. Paul Morriss says:

    But you have to know what irony is. Alana Morrisette’s song called Isn’t it Ironic shows how hard it is to tell. Whilst googling to get the spelling of her surname I found a wikipedia article on the subject, of all things.

    For example

    "It’s like rain on your wedding day" isn’t ironic,

    "It’s like rain on your wedding day and you’re a weather forecaster", would be ironic.

  7. Dave Solimini says:

    when instant messaging and writing, a number of people i talk to have take to adding a "$" to the end (or even before) an ironic or sarastic sentence. You get the "S-looking" shape for "sarcasm" while creating a new context for the character.

  8. Arthur Davidson Ficke says:

    Ironicly, if you have to mark a sentence as being ironic, then, well, it probably isn’t particularly ironic.

    Instead of it signaling irony, it would instead be signaling insipidness.

  9. Arthur Davidson Ficke says:

    Ironicly, if you have to mark a sentence as being ironic, then, well, it probably isn’t particularly ironic.

    Instead of it signaling irony, it would instead be signaling insipidness.

  10. The reversed question mark was used as a mark of "rhetorical questions". Its life wasn’t very long, about 1580-1600. I’ll probably try to get it into Unicode.

  11. Dan McCarty says:

    Friend: Britney is planning to have another baby to save her marriage with KFed.

    Me: Why the hell did she marry a guy named KFed(interrobang)

  12. Dave says:

    "Uhhhh.. the name’s Dave Clinger, but my friends call me Dave ‘Zinger’, on account of my awesome, awesome zings!"

  13. Jason Black says:

    I want one! Where can I get it? Don’t make me make my own font… (Note, perfectly non-ironic or interrobangish use of ! and ?.)

  14. david says:

    At the Irony Party of Australia we fully support the introduction of innovative punctuation to give clearer interpretations of spoken word in text.

    In fact, as far as possible, we advocate tactical rather than strategic use of symbols. It’s foreseeable that such markers – potentially new and different in each instance – might have to be negotiated as a part of reading a text . It’s like adding another dimension to textuality, using one language to explain the substructure of another. From this perspective metaphysical exploration could be conducted with experimental punctuation.

    I worked for three years as a transcript typist, and was frustrated by how limiting the normative style for transcripts was in terms of representing politicians and others speech on the page. A range of punctuation and style alternatives could have made a transcript far richer in the amount of the original text that could be translated into textual form . However, I’d argue for ‘in sentence’ irony markers and not just a sentence-end marker.

  15. Daniel Yacob says:

    I am reminded here of the sarcasm mark used in Ethiopic practices, "Timherte Slaq" . Most frequently found in the single panel editorial comics of newspapers. The mark is just the Inverted Exclamation Mark (¡ – U+00A1) though stylized for ethiopic faces.

    It is used at the end of a sentence for unreal statements. Perhaps its been used for irony as well, since irony can be something seemingly unreal. Anyone know if this use of inverted exclamation mark is found elsewhere?

  16. caleb walker says:

    Fontblog is in search of new sentence-ending punctuation marks. The &quot;irony mark&quot; is an interesting idea, but it looks to me like the symbol one might find on the door to the mammography clinic.

  17. Margaret says:

    For me and many people I know, the backwards question mark means "unclear."  Since "unclear" is a pretty standard response from us ("How are we going to build that staircase?"  "Unclear.") having an actual typographic symbol to display it would be nice.

  18. Hi, first off, thanks for clear type.

    Second, I’m not sure how happy I am about hierarchical solutions to problems such as punctuation. Just look at what happened to the German efforts to hierarchically reform spelling. Did not work. Of course, they should have probably talked to the MS manager responsible for the default auto-correction setting in "Word", but still – I feel there will be more intuitive opposition to MS standardizing emotional expression on the screen than delight about increased built-in ways to punctuate.

  19. Brian Tyler says:

    Sligthly off-topic, but I didn’t find a suggestion box on the blog: Where can we discuss the new fonts that are being introduced for Vista. I think they all look great, but giving them such similar names is going to be a serious usability issue. Nobody outside the MS Font Team will be able to remember which one is which. Why are you deliberately making it harder for your users to use your fonts? Please reconsider.

  20. Keff says:

    Hi, its great to hear you talking about sarcasm, especially when you embed the Candara font for internet explorer to display it on computer WITHOUT Candara, but you are forgetting those of us WITH Candara installed!

    How come my not-embeding-fonts browser displays a page in Verdana although I have Candara and the others on my system?! Look at your css, please :).

    And thanks for a good reading.

  21. QuickFox says:

    It seems to me that a much more intuitive and easily understandable solution for an Irony Mark would be an Exclamation Point, where the dot at the bottom has been replaced with a short curved line suggesting a smile. The curved line at the bottom would be roughly similar to a breve, the diacritic at the top here:

  22. Ultrasparky says:

    A recent thread at Typophile ponders what might be used as a punctuation mark to express irony. The suggestion so far, picking things up from here and here (that last one’s a French Wikipedia article, in case wants to leave…

  23. Kevin Larson says:


    Choz Cunningham has proposed an alternative design for the irony mark:

    I’m inclined to adopt it because it affords a nice transition plan while we wait for unicode and the fonts to catch up.

  24. To all who like the idea of not adding another entirely new character, but still reaping the benefits, I am looking to create a list of supporters for the Snark punctuation. I would like to build momentum for the period-tilde method among the design community, and would love to hear from anyone else in favor. Send me a line at snark {at} exclamachine {dot} com, if you would like to be included in the supporting designers & foundries list @

  25. Hiram Maxim says:

    I’ve seen that before. It’s the Wouff-Hong: google images for wouff hong to see what it looks like.

  26. Rakeltje says:

    You could use the arabic question mark:؟(U+061F) (only problem is arabic is RTL.)

    I don’t like the tilde idea.

    putting the tilde behind the dot, you have to put an extra space, because tilde is a dead key.

    ~. would use a keypress less.

  27. Filip says:

    It’s a good idea, I’m gonna ad it to the typefaces I’ve designed.

    irony only work with bodylanguage …

  28. Amber says:

    To the "Asperger’s Syndrome" comment up higher on the page:

    I have Asperger’s, and I understand irony perfectly well, thank you very much!

  29. 2600 Htz says:

    I wish you would also do doubt point, certitude point, acclamation point, authority point, indignation point, and love point

  30. deafdaddy says:

    the new punct is a good idea, but hard to realize in places like comments, etc.

    we need to utilize the TILDE, people.

    ~i’m so smart~

    it works, and we don’t use it for anything but decoration right now anyway

  31. Joe McDonald says:

    I think the problem here is that punctuation should be a lot more invisible than the irony mark.

    Periods are nearly invisible to a reader. They’re just present enough to signal something, without any interruption.

    Question marks register as "oh, there’s a squiggly thing coming up – this is a question," but again are non-intrusive.

    If "oh there’s a squiggly thing coming up" then requires further processing (noting which way it is facing, the shape of the squiggle, etc), then it suddenly makes every squiggly mark something that requires more processing. It makes the punctuation more visible. Which detracts from the words. Which slows the reader. Which contradicts the role of typography.

  32. Graydon says:

    I have heard of people using an exclamation point in brackets to show irony or sarcasm – (!)

  33. Ian McKay says:

    I use this mark in its "arial"-wikipedia-format as background image on all my smartphones since 2008/09. 🙂

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