Bring back the snark


It doesn’t matter how obvious it is, people will still miss sarcasm or irony on Twitter.

This is the newly minted Shapshak’s First Rule of Mistaken Sarcasm, though this tragic phenomenon has been widely observed before. It’s true of almost any written communication, for that matter.

Sarcasm – the highest form of wit, at least since irony – is so easily misunderstood, especially when there are none of the obvious visual clues on a person’s face.

Sarcasm, in the real world, is hard at the best of times. Add a dry sense of humour and most of what you say will be mistaken.

Even if that ultimate verbal-sparring Jedi, Oscar Wilde, said: “I live in terror of not being misunderstood,” I’d gladly trade it for people appreciating sarcasm.

It’s a bit like this weekend’s round of April Fool jokes. In years gone by, outrageous claims of high crime figures, corruption or scurrilous individuals, in various forms of professional and criminal embarrassment, vying for the top jobs in the police force, would have been treated as these traditional jokes. No longer.

The world is so rotten, we need a way to laugh at our predicament even more than before.

But it does not solve the problem of pointing out sarcasm.

For a brief period, until I was quite rightly reprimanded, I tried to denote that I was being sarcastic on Twitter by using a smiley face. Yes, I actually used an emoticon – the original colon and close brackets. The shame of it.

So how does one convey sarcasm in a written message?

Bring back that snark. That’s what I say. This long-forgotten punctuation symbol, which looks like a reversed question mark, is begging to be reintroduced into our modern world.

It is an unknown and obscure symbol, whose real name reveals its real use: point d’ironie. A fancy sounding French term to describe it just adds to its mystique, doesn’t it.

Of course, with the epigrammatic SMS having robbed the English language of most of its punctuation, and often full words, a mirror-image question mark might cause more confusion than solution.

Like trying to work out who isn’t corruption-tainted in the top echelon of the police in South Africa, or at the very least devoid of scandal or criminal charges, for, among other things, murder.

Perhaps the new depiction of Shapshak’s First Rule of Mistaken Sarcasm – and probably only to be used in my tweets – is this obscure symbol: §.

It almost looks like an “S” and clearly has no other use in the English language or we might have heard of it.

Of course, to find it on a modern keyboard is about as hard as trying to explain to people what the § stands for. But then again, any keyboard short-cut on an Apple laptop is like being a concert pianist – you have to be able to execute complex finger movements.

Let’s try it. Someone asked me the other day if there were any swear words in Yiddish: “I know of only one. It’s ‘retail’. §”

Does that work?

I’m no Peter Delmar, or a Chris Roper, to whom funny sentences flow like, well, funny sentences. I don’t do humour, mostly because I’m not very funny.

Except for a few occasional sentences, they will not be making a Material movie of my life.

But like the many rabbis in my blood line, I see the irony of the world and mutter my displeasure with sarcasm.

Here’s one I made a little earlier: “Yiddish has lots of words for idiots and sorrow. Happiness and joy, not so much. §”

Source: Times Live


About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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