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One, two or even three exclamation marks are often added, especially in e-mail, to convey emphasis to phrases such as Thanks!, or No problem!. My problem is that in British English, you could also use the exclamation mark to convey sarcasm such that Thanks! could just as well be interpreted as Thanks a bunch, why on earth did you have to do/say that!. Is this just a simple regional difference? I make a point of suggesting workmates use the exclamation mark with great caution! (emphasis intended)

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5 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Given how bad direct text is at transmitting nuances of expression such as sarcasm, I would definitely have to chalk this up as a regional thing. Certainly in most of the online communities I have participated in, the expression of sarcasm uses a variety of fairly clear indicators:

Oh Noooooooooo, this isn't sarcastic at aaaaaaaaaaall.

Gee. Thanks.

<eyeroll>

I'm so glad you're here! </sarcasm>

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the folks I've mentioned it to have no idea that Thanks! might have two interpretations. –  ukayer Feb 9 '11 at 5:45
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+1 for the </sarcasm> tag. –  Zoot Feb 9 '11 at 14:27
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You often see an exclamation mark in parentheses to show that the statement is sarcastic or not the intended real meaning:

  • Thanks a lot (!)
  • How very kind of him to do such a thing (!)
  • Well that's just great then (!)
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I'm not convinced that in British English an exclamation mark does indicate sarcasm, in any case it totally doesn't work on me.

As Hellion hints, text is no good for this kind of thing, especially not if it's 'encoded' in some supposedly regional usage. So I'd either go for something explicit and unmistakable, or leave it out altogether.

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I think it can be used to indicate sarcasm, but maybe I'm being over-sensitive. Many of the answers given here suggest better ways to convey sarcasm in informal writing, but now you've got me wondering just how many people do interpret the exclamation mark as a possible indicator of sarcastic intent. –  ukayer Feb 14 '11 at 8:23
    
@ukayer, I did also wonder about postfixing with '... not'. But I'm not sure whether that is too explicit to count as sarcasm, and I'm not sure how portable it is either. Overstatement is another (probably typically British) form of sarcasm which would be a likely casualty when written. –  Benjol Feb 14 '11 at 8:30
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Apparently there is a punctuation for Irony & Sarcasm:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony_punctuation

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American English doesn't typically denote sarcasm with punctuation. "Thanks!" is genuine. But emphasis or additional words can make it sarcastic:

  • Gee, thanks.
  • Thanks a lot.

I've also seen younger generations (born 1990+) use trailing letters to denote additional emotion that is not necessarily sarcastic: "Thanksssssssssssss!" I don't get it.

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