[whatwg] sarcasm

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis bhawkeslewis at googlemail.com
Tue Apr 24 14:05:35 PDT 2007

Marking up emotions and tones is an interesting idea, especially when 
you consider the potential for talking browsers like Opera and Fire Vox. 
But the general utility of marking up sarcasm is somewhat broader than 
that for marking other emotions and tones, because sarcasm is 
/especially/ likely to be misinterpreted. Hence the popularity of the 
phrase: "I was being sarcastic". The crux of misunderstanding here is 
that words are used in such a way as to undermine their surface meaning.

You can undermine your own words more or less explicitly. On the one 
hand, you can give your audience no formal clues and depend entirely on 
common notions shared with audience (say, about the excellence of US 
presidents) for your disavowal to be detected, as with deadpan sarcasm 
and a lot of satire. Alternatively, you can rely on various conventions 
to modify the meaning of what is said, such as a nasal tone of voice, 
"air quotes", and "scare quotes". For this more explicit disavowal, TEI 
includes a fabulous <soCalled> element:


I suspect that the implicit and explicit variations reflect authorial 
intent and are not merely incidental. For that reason, I doubt markup 
would be appropriate for the implicit form. But markup could certainly 
be work well for the explicit variation.

Talking browsers and screen readers offer a good justification for using 
markup in addition to punctuation for sarcasm. In Western languages at 
least, it is only through markup that can they clearly distinguish 
direct speech, quotation, and sarcasm, and assign them different voices. 
Quotation punctuation is far more fluid and ambiguous than other 
punctuation like commas, semicolons, question marks, full stops, and 
exclamation marks. So Alexey's analogy with how we treat more reliable 
punctuation is problematic.

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis

Alexey Feldgendler wrote:
> On Tue, 24 Apr 2007 22:18:23 +0200, Charles Iliya Krempeaux 
> <supercanadian at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> It occurs to me that one of the most frequently used nits of
>>> pseudo-markup is to indicate sarcasm. For example,
>>> <sarcasm>Yeah, George W. Bush has been such a great president.</sarcasm>
>>> Should we perhaps formalize this? Is there any benefit to be achieved by
>>> adding an explicit sarcasm element to HTML?
> In Western typography, there is already a tradition to mark up irony 
> with quotation marks:
> Yeah, George W. Bush has been such a “great” president.
> I don't think a structural markup is required for something that has a 
> punctuation tradition, just like we don't introduce structural markup 
> for sentences (the punctuation, such as a full stop after the sentence, 
> suffices).
>> Also... I've heard that Ethiopian Semitic languages and French 
>> actually has a punctuation mark for sarcasm.
> There was such an idea, but it hasn't been widely adopted.
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony_mark

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