The Byrne Blog

John Byrne Communicating About Communications

I figured it might be good to post my Monday Morning Quarterbacking entry while it was still actually morning… somewhere.

And thus, an example of today’s topic:  sarcasm in writing.  I stumbled upon this blog entry today at PR Junkie that talks about a movement to start a sarcasm font, apparently because it’s something that smart alecks like me need desperately because we are so often misunderstood.  Whoops, there I go again.  Or was that cynicism?  In a desperate attempt to self-medicate self-diagnose, I stumbled upon this:  The Sarcasm Society (where their catchphrase is “We would love to hear what you think!”).  Interestingly, these folks don’t seem to know about the sarcasm font, or at least I couldn’t find out since I couldn’t easily locate a search function for the site.  Not to mention the fact that the site attempts to use mere italics to indicate the inherent sarcasm in its catchphrase.  My mini-review of the site and its blog is that it attempts to be like The Onion, except more mean and less funny.

Anyhoo, back to communicating about communications.  The rule of thumb when writing has always been to avoid sarcasm unless you’re making it consistently clear from the outset, like some latter-day Swift, that the reader shouldn’t be taking anything literally (or seriously).  In practice, I think eschewing sarcasm is a rule worth following, especially in business writing or when writing for people you don’t know or those who cannot put your writing into the proper context.   In other words, keep your smart-aleck comments to yourself. 

However, it seems like our popular culture has an inherently sarcastic meme to it nowadays.  So much so that it seems impossible to avoid it, whether you’re reading the breathless columns in the sports section of your local newspaper or trolling the latest celebrity gossip on any number of people we all should really care less about.  It would seem that the old rule of thumb about avoiding sarcasm in writing is being broken daily in a variety of forums and contexts.  Perhaps that’s what is fueling the movement toward a sarcasm font.  Except that why would we need a special font to express sarcasm when it so often is apparent or assumed?  Seems like a sarcasm font has already jumped the shark, to resurrect a cliche that in fact has jumped the shark (or is that redundant?).

On a similar train of thought:  If the issue is trying to indicate clarity of purpose in your writing (“Hello, I’m being saracastic here, dummy, pay attention!”), then doesn’t the use of a special font for something like sarcasm in essence ruin the impact of using sarcasm in the first place?  Good writing is all about not seeming too forced or trying to hard.  You’re trying for eloquence, or elegance, of thought when you write well.  If you feel like the need to make sure that everyone knows you’re being sarcastic in a piece of writing, maybe you should just skip it.  Instead, try just being direct.  It’s much more effective, and often more eloquent.

Here goes:  A sarcastic font is one of the silliest ideas I’ve heard in a long time.

See?  So much better.

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