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(some thanks)

My thanks to the good folks at randomWalks Books for their thoughts on the style guide found on this site.

The guide comes with a qualifier at the top ("Note: Some texts, though published and read on the web, are largely immune to the principles outlined here. ... "), but its stance on sarcasm in particular has inspired some relatively strong reactions. The first, I believe, was here (and I owe its author my thanks for correcting my spelling of "paraenthetical"), and a couple others are here and here. (There were some others, but I've lost track of them.)

It's good to know. The guide's voice is fairly authoritative, but not because I intend it as a definitive or prescriptive set of rules; it's just that it's clearer that way. But I think I'll add some qualifying language to the entries on sarcasm and irony — and try and resist the temptation to be funny about it.

February 15, 2002 12:35 PM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

The advice on sarcasm is sound, especially for people unfamiliar with writing on the web. Geek and techie types revel in sarcastic humor in face-to-face interactions, and often don't realize that it's hard to get that across in the written word. More often than not, it just makes you sound like an asshole.

But some of us are trying to sound like an asshole, so it's okay.

Well, actually, I am just an asshole, and it leaks out, and I like to blame sarcasm for it.

Something like that.

Posted by Mr. Nosuch on February 15, 2002 4:48 PM

It's true, he is. I, however, am just a sarcastic bastard, who has given that same advice (with little or no success) more times than I can count.

I think the best way of putting it is "Sarcasm and irony are difficult to use successfully; start slow, and expect to learn from your mistakes."

In fact, they probably produce exactly the same reaction no matter what the medium. Using them online simply lowers the barrier for responding in kind: it takes far more effort to flame a columnist in a print newspaper than to comment on a weblog. Luckily, at least in weblogs, I'm seeing more flames quickly dampened, and fewer all-out wars.

Something I'm curious about: what's the proper usage when the company name is also a trademark? For example, Yahoo (you're certain it's proper to drop the bang?) is a trademark of Yahoo Inc., and so if you are talking about the product that made them famous, you should say "the Yahoo directory" rather than just "Yahoo." Does company name usage trump trademark usage?

Posted by Phil Ringnalda on February 16, 2002 2:53 AM

Hmm. I do actually think there are a few factors that make sarcasm more likely to get out of hand online. Writers are, overall, less careful about their tone (and often less experienced, as writers (as Mr. Nosuch observes)). And readers, overall, are less likely to think about what they're reading, it seems -- especially if they don't understand it easily.

In the end, I think sarcasm works best online the same way it does anywhere -- when your audience knows you well enough to know where you're coming from, and when you're being sarcastic. When I wrote those suggestions for sarcasm, I was mostly mindful of how, with web copy, you never know who's going to read it.

But it's definitely more subtle an issue than I suggest in the guide; it's probably a good idea to indicate that. Thank you both for your thoughts. (No, really, I mean that.)

[As for usage and trademarks, generally, a publication's house style will override a company's preferred convention. You can choose to include the ! in Yahoo! if you like, but the only law governing Yahoo's marketing department's right to force anyone to write their name a certain way is, I believe, the one on free speech. (Thank God.) My own style guide's preference to drop the funky punctuation is purely conventional, however -- you can keep it or drop it to suit your own style (so long as, of course, you're consistent throughout your site).]

Posted by M on February 16, 2002 12:36 PM


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