A sign of the times?

It's book week this week in the Netherlands, and as a kind of publicity stunt, the committee for the promotion of the Dutch book introduced a new reading sign: the "irony sign". Meant to be placed at the beginning and ending of any word, phrase, sentence or paragraph that's meant to be taken ironically.

As it turns out, it's mostly food for columnists. Bloggers too, I assume.

The sign is silly, of course, and I seriously doubt it will catch on, but I think it's kind of alarming that we apparently need it. And I have to see, sometimes I do catch myself relying too much on smileys to convey the tone of my words, the ;-) smiley being especially abused in e-mails. And when I force myself to leave the smileys out, I sometimes worry that something I said as a joke might be interpreted as a slight.

Does that mean we're losing our ability to put nuance in our words out of lazyness, because we don't need to any more? I hope not, as it would mean a loss in style and language that no reading sign can compensate for.

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