Is that irony in your pocket? I couldn’t tell without a punctuation mark.

Think the interrobang is strange? Well, the nonstandard punctuation department is hardly a lonely place. For centuries, humans have been toying with squiggly lines and dots, trying to get them to do more than the jobs of standard punctuation.

One of the interrobang’s odd companions arose near the end of the 1800s when French poet Alcanter de Brahm invented a mark to show when an author intended a sentence to be understood on a different level than is initially read. Thus, the irony mark: ؟


Just for fun, here is how two quotes from one of history’s funniest users of irony, Mark Twain, would look with the irony mark:

– All generalizations are false, including this one؟


– Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry؟

Yet, Twain didn’t use the irony mark. And, despite Alcanter de Brahm’s attempts, the irony mark is still rarely seen. I think the reason comes down to authors’ respect for their readers. One who writes needs to work to express their ideas clearly. After that, the writer must trust the intelligence of their readers and that they will understand irony when they come across it.

But if you subscribe to the Idiocracy view of future and fear the dumbing down of popular culture (How soon until we see this contest: Explain the meaning of life in 140 characters or less.), we might one day need the irony mark.