I have a character who is a talking shovel. He's arguing with another character and criticizing them.

"Oh! And let me take a wild guess—you’ve probably asked the people who live around the jungle to harvest it and make the shirts for you without getting paid!"

The word "asked" is supposed to have an inflection on it. Bascially, he wanted to say with the use of sarcasm (or at least I think it's sarcasm) how the other character didn't really ask but force people to make shirts for her without pay.

I don't want to have to take a whole paragraph to explain how the talking shovel had an inflection on the word "asked" as he spoke to indicate sarcasm, and I can't describe his body language because he is a shovel with no face or limbs of any kind. Is there a better/simpler way to do this?

  • 16
    Too short for an answer, but. Trust your readers. Whether you italize it (asked), air quote it (or just 'asked'), or leave it as is. If the reader knows the character, they'll know they are being sarcastic.
    – Fayth85
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 17:47
  • 14
    "let me take a wild guess" makes it clear to me but this relies on idioms. I know sarcasm is coming because I know that phrase. It may not be a choice to have the shovel talk in urban slang, but now I am expecting everything the shovel says from now on to be sarcastic ("Sarcasm is the correct word: not a "joke" haha, but a criticism and more than a little bitter.) He will actually need to say something that makes his voice come out of sarcasm mode in my head before I will hear anything in a normal voice.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 17:55
  • I just noticed you specifically wanted advice for inflecting the "asked" part of the sentence. I have edited my answer to address that in particular. Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 21:25
  • 2
    @Fayth85 - I believe "air quotes" refers to the physical gesture of indicating quotation marks with your fingers (which the shovel will not be able to do!). In print, they are most often called "scare quotes." Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 22:00
  • 5
    I've read only the quote and I'm sure it's enough just like that. It basically drips sarcasm
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 22:31

2 Answers 2


You have already conveyed sarcasm perfectly well in the dialogue. And that is the best place for it. If you can convey emotion through dialogue without having to add tags like, derisively, sarcastically, and so on, you're doing a great job.

As soon as your character says:

Oh! And let me take a wild guess...

We know that's sarcasm.

Fayth85 is right: "Trust your readers."


As far as the specific question of inflecting the word "asked," the entirely standard and acceptable way to do that is to put it in internal quotes. This is not an affectation, it is the technically correct way to indicate (in print) that a word is not being used in strict accord with its dictionary definition.

Beyond that, I'm going to be the contrarian voice, and say that as long as it isn't every other paragraph, the occasional "Tom Swifty"-ism of "he said, sarcastically," is perfectly fine. I'm in favor of anything that makes it easier for the reader to understand your writing without calling undue attention to itself.

"Oh! And let me take a wild guess," he said, sarcastically. "You’ve probably 'asked' the people who live around the jungle to harvest it and make the shirts for you without getting paid!"

As long as it doesn't become a nervous tic, or something you shoehorn in, it should be relatively transparent and invisible to the reader.

  • 2
    Chris, do you think italics are just as reasonable for the inflection on 'asked'? In the UK, single speech marks are becoming the norm and double considered old-fashioned. In which case you end up with 'You've probably "asked" the people...' which looks a little clunky to me, personally. I think, 'You've probably asked the people...' would be just as acceptable if you're using single speech marks?
    – GGx
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 11:07
  • 1
    In British English, single quotes are the outer quotes, and double are the inner quotes. It's the reverse in America but (as far as I know) they are otherwise used the same way. I believe it's always been that way, it's not a recent development. To your question, I don't think italics would be equivalent in this case --they express an inflection, but not the same one. You might read them the same way, but the meaning would be different. (With that said, I'm not 100% sure the conventions are the same in the UK as in the USA.) Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 12:59
  • 1
    Ahh, yes, thinking about it, that old-fashioned comment came from a teacher of mine in Australia, not England. I see what you're saying, as in italics would denote an emphasis on that word that isn't necessarily sarcasm. Just been Googling. Writing for 15 years, never heard the term "scare quotes" before. I like it. It makes sense when you think about air quotes in sarcasm. Great site this, answering, questioning, and learning all at the same time. Like writing itself.
    – GGx
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 13:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.