A Sarcastic Font · 10 March 2012

The world needs a sarcastic font. At least the online one does.

People can usually tell when others are being sarcastic when they communicate face-to-face. Tones of voice and facial expressions and other non-verbal cues make up the majority of communication and help people determine when others are being facetious. Some people go so far as to change their voice or do something outrageous to show their sarcasm. People can even use sarcasm to enhance communication. As long as they do not overdo it. And sarcasm can lighten a mood or bring smiles to people when used properly.

Sarcasm can also be misinterpreted or misunderstood. When this happens, people get their feelings hurt. Sticks and stones do indeed break bones, but names and words often scar for life. So it is with misinterpreted sarcasm. People can get hurt with sarcastic words. Especially, when those words are not seen as sarcasm.

If sarcasm can be hurtful in person when misunderstood, online sarcasm and satire can be even more so. Recently, a former student of mine who was very sarcastic in person commented about one of my columns.

“You are a better teacher than writer.”

I did not know whether to feel good or bad when I read those words. Was my reader (who I will call Paul) suggesting that I am a good teacher, but a lousy writer? Or did he think I am a good writer, but better teacher? Or did he think I am at best mediocre at both? Or worse yet, that I am less than mediocre at both? I chose to believe he likes both my writing and my teaching. (He might even tell me after he reads this column.)

If Paul had talked to me in person, I would have known whether he was being sarcastic or not. (Any time he used to speak, there was a high probability he was being sarcastic.) But since we were not communicating in person, I could not tell. Thus the need for the sarcastic font. (Hopefully, he realizes, even without a sarcastic font, that I am teasing him just a bit.)

If we had a sarcastic font, then people could use sarcasm online without the fear of being taken too seriously or being misunderstood. People could essentially give facial expressions and body language to their online words. Satirists would not need to worry that poor children might get eaten (see A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift) or funding might get taken away from important programs because of a ludicrous, but obviously satirical, suggestion. All they would need to do is use a sarcastic font and people would know a real proposal from a modest proposal.

Then again, maybe having a sarcastic font is not such a good idea. People would not need to think as much when they read if there was a visual way to show sarcasm and satire. And then, some people would misuse the sarcastic font when they are serious and mess it all up. It would be like getting emails in all CAPS and wondering why the sender is shouting. We would get serious emails in the sarcastic font and wonder why the sender was being so flippant about a serious subject, when in reality, he or she just liked the look of the font.

I guess there really is not a need for that sarcastic font. People ought to be able to figure out digital sarcasm and satire through context.

Which brings me back to my former student’s comment. I really do think Paul meant I am pretty good at both teaching and writing. After all, he said I do better when I teach and write about something. Then again, I could be wrong about his intent. I had to read the message several times to see if he was being his usual sarcastic self or if he was being sincere. So maybe it is just Paul and not the entire online world that needs a sarcastic font.

© 2012 Michael T. Miyoshi

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Published 20 March 2012 in The Monroe Monitor & Valley News


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