A company in the U.K. has invented something called the SarcMark to use after sarcastic statements in emails, because it is often difficult to tell whether someone is being sarcastic in writing. As many of you know, flame wars have erupted over this issue.
The other day I was writing some lesson plans for a fifth-grade reading class and I contrasted sarcasm with irony. Both sarcasm and irony involve saying or writing the opposite of what you really mean. Irony is generally used to make a remark humorous, while sarcasm is used to insult or make negative comments.
As a teacher of English as a Second Language, I realized very early on that people who did not speak English as a native language often missed sarcastic or ironic remarks, and I learned to say, “I’m teasing” whenever there was danger of a misunderstanding. I taught my students to ask, “Are you teasing?” if they weren’t sure, and I now a few of them used that advice to good effect.
Now that a lot of my communications are via email, social media, or instant messenger, I have learned to use cues that my meaning is ironic. Before the invention of emoticons (smiley faces) I could write <wink> or <grin> after a statement to show that my intent was humor.
The little emoticon with the tongue hanging out has been used to good effect in emails and messages. If you use the text for the smiley face 🙂 you can simply substitute a letter P for the parenthesis. 😛 Whether or not the code turns into a little icon or not is irrelevant, as everyone who uses the Internet these days knows what the code means.
Remembering to be proactive about announcing my humorous intent has saved me a number of times from getting into an argument. I think its common courtesy to use these aides in written communications, to make one’s intent perfectly clear, particularly since our communications nowadays through the Internet often involve those who are not of our own culture.
Some cultures seem to tolerate sarcasm better than others. I’ve heard people from the U.K lambasting Americans for not understanding basic sarcastic humor. Truly, it is not that we don’t understand English. It’s that we don’t understand your culture. And some of us are not that thrilled about the use of sarcasm, anyway. Irony, OK. Sarcasm, not so much.
The prevalence of sarcastic remarks in the U.K. has apparently made it necessary to invent a punctuation mark to use after sarcastic remarks in the same way that we use exclamation points after exclamations. If you go to the company’s website (Google SarcMark – I refuse to do their advertising for them.) you will see that you can download the software to make this punctuation mark for both PCs running Windows, Macs, and Blackberry. For now, the download is free. If it catches on, I suppose the company will begin to charge for it.
I thought about downloading the punctuation software, but then I had second thoughts. Do I really use that much sarcasm? No, I’m making an effort, in fact, to stop using it. A little irony once in a while, OK. But sarcasm? I can do without it, and I can certainly do without the hassle of miscommunication. I’ll use the winking smiley or the <grin> notation to get my point across when I’m teasing. Otherwise, forget it. 🙂