[whatwg] several messages about <sarcasm> proposals

Ian Hickson ian at hixie.ch
Sun Apr 13 02:08:33 PDT 2008

On Tue, 24 Apr 2007, Elliotte Harold 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?

On Tue, 24 Apr 2007, Dan Brickley wrote:
> Seems rather culturally specific. I found from living in Boston for a 
> while, that a British sense of humour often seems harsher and more 
> sarcastic to our gentle US cousins. So I wouldn't burn this into an 
> element name.

On Tue, 24 Apr 2007, Charles Iliya Krempeaux wrote:
> An interesting proposal.
> Some other things to consider is some of the other ways people mark up 
> sarcasm.
> Some people mark it with a winking smiley.  As in...
> ;-)
> Or...
> ;)
> Although, this tends to be when a person is being sarcastic to be funny 
> or to tease someone.
> I don't believe I've ever seen (or used myself) the winking smiley when 
> I'm being sarcastic AND I'm trying to be mean to the person, to in a 
> heated argument.  (I.e., using sarcasm to "make a point".)
> Also... I've heard that Ethiopian Semitic languages and French actually 
> has a punctuation mark for sarcasm.

On Tue, 24 Apr 2007, Alexey Feldgendler wrote:
> 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).
> There was such an idea, but it hasn't been widely adopted. 
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony_mark

On Tue, 24 Apr 2007, Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis wrote:
> 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:
> http://www.tei-c.org/release/doc/tei-p5-doc/html/ref-soCalled.html
> 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.

On Tue, 24 Apr 2007, Elliotte Harold wrote:
> There's an even stronger tradition to mark quotes with quotation marks, 
> and yet we have the q element.

On Tue, 24 Apr 2007, Brenton Strine wrote:
> So why not use the q element for irony as well, since a quote already 
> indicates both quotations and irony.

On Wed, 25 Apr 2007, Alexey Feldgendler wrote:
> For the same reason why we don't want <i> used to mark up emphasis, 
> foreign words and defined terms (since italics are already used in 
> typography for all of this).

On Tue, 24 Apr 2007, Jon Barnett wrote:
> I think sarcasm is a good case for "class extensions"
> http://wiki.whatwg.org/wiki/ClassExtensions
> That could also apply to other tones of voice where context doesn't make 
> it obvious, such as irony, anger, suspicion, elation, and veiled 
> threats.

On Tue, 24 Apr 2007, ddailey wrote:
> a. I rather like this sort of thing -- I wrote a note to the HTML WG a 
> month or so ago (in reflection on the <abbr> <acronym> debate -- no I am 
> not trying to reopen that) about a variety of allied issues: graphemic, 
> pronunciation-related, and semantic 
> http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-html/2007JanMar/0458.html . 
> It may have not been the proper audience, or perhaps it will become a 
> part of the standard, or maybe it was just plain dumb, I am not sure 
> yet. <humor backward-pointer="1sentence"/>
> b. The W3C has a "reasoning with uncertainty" incubator WG. I would be 
> quite uncertain myself in making any proper explanation of what they do.  
> But I can say it looks pretty worthwhile and at least tangentially 
> relevant to the markup of "authorial intent" which itself can go a long 
> way toward exposing those inferences that can be appropriately 
> associated with our utterances.
> c. Consider a non-normative (descriptive) study of all those "odd" 
> orthographic conventions that people have invented (including cross 
> cultural and historical studies of punctuation) leading up to modern 
> <quasi> markup </quasi> -related neologisms (including such things as -; 
> and <happyface/>) . Such studies might help to expose (for example) the 
> different contextual meanings of parenthesis -- back in grad school some 
> 30+ years ago I counted something like 10 different meanings of 
> parentheses in running English text) .
> These would all be good studies I think. Such analyses would help bridge 
> the gap between semantics1 (as used by humans) and semantics2 (as used 
> by compilers and interpreters) and could bring value to any new markups 
> that seek to empower humans to express themselves with clarity.
> example: "when I speak of ambiguity, I speak with no 
> <ambiguous>ambiguity</ambiguous>" <humor backward-pointer="1sentence"/>
> d. Folks who appear to represent some of the other WG's within W3C seem 
> to be receptive to these sorts of discussions of what we might call 
> "markup of authorial intent."

On Wed, 25 Apr 2007, Kristof Zelechovski wrote:
> Your quotation is incorrect because the Q element inserts 
> language-dependent quotation marks on its own.  Your markup produces the 
> following text: "« Toute forme de langage devrait être reconnue et libre 
> d'exister sans ironie. »"
> At least, it should.  Internet Explorer does not do it because they do 
> not support :before and :after CSS selectors, among other useful and 
> required recommendations.

On Tue, 24 Apr 2007, Arne Johannessen wrote:
> I do like the idea of formalising that -- but considering the way the 
> sarcasm element occasionally is used in emails, we may find it necessary 
> to make its start tag optional...</sarcasm> ;-)

On Tue, 24 Apr 2007, Charles Iliya Krempeaux wrote:
> Yeah... like the winking smiley, the lone "</sarcasm>" seems to be used 
> more like a punctuation mark (than markup) at times.

On Wed, 25 Apr 2007, Allan Sandfeld Jensen wrote:
> <sarcasm>Excelent!!</sarcasm>
> This will be a great idea to formalize and publish around April next 
> year.

My timing is completely unintentional, I assure you.

I read all of the above, and gave this idea much more consideration than 
it probably deserves. I also studied various typographic conventions, and 
studied potential use cases, other vocabularies, and so forth.

I do not believe that starting down this slippery slope will get us enough 
benefits to outweigh the costs involved. It isn't at all clear when we 
would have to stop (just look at the proposals above, which quickly went 
from just indicating sarcasm to pointing out other kinds of humour, other 
emotions, etc).

I also believe that the rather limited success that analogous proposals 
have enjoyed in print typography over the years should be a warning sign 
for us to avoid introducing any explicit markup for this.

As has been noted, class keywords can be used for this purpose on a 
site-by-site basis.

On Tue, 24 Apr 2007, Dan Brickley wrote:
> Some way of citing externally maintained lists might be nice, eg. see 
> work of http://www.w3.org/2005/Incubator/emotion/charter
> ""The mission of the Emotion Incubator Group, part of the Incubator 
> Activity, is to investigate the prospects of defining a general-purpose 
> Emotion annotation and representation language, which should be usable 
> in a large variety of technological contexts where emotions need to be 
> represented.""

We have such a way -- defining Microformats based on existing 
vocabularies. I think providing such a microformat based on the results of 
the aforementioned incubator group would be a good way to experiment with 
this and help gain us some "in the wild" experience. If such experience is 
positive, then it would be something to revisit.

Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'

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