Sarcasm: Are You PRO or CON?

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

The sarcastic remark is a favorite weapon for people who delight in personal attacks.

Ah, new drapes! It’s nice to see you haven’t given up Dumpster-diving.

However, most of us are mature enough to ignore personal attacks because we accept reality: There is no cure for jackass.

Sarcasm also appears in many run-of-the-mill arguments, and in marital arguments when making your immediate point is more important than future groveling.

And Pretty Much Everywhere Else
Personal attacks and marital bliss aside, sarcasm regularly arises in our everyday conversations, our writing (emails to novels), and certainly in nearly all comedic performances. It would be difficult to find a television sitcom that didn’t have a wide sarcastic streak. You can even find sarcasm in such odd places as a college classroom.

“Two negatives make a positive, but two positives never make a negative.”
“Yeah, right.”

Love It Or Hate It
People tend to have strong opinions about sarcasm. Whether you’re pro or con is, to be tactlessly honest, pretty much irrelevant. Sarcasm is part of our culture, and it’s here to stay. Yet, there’s no avoiding that sarcasm has a negative tinge—often critical, and often making someone the butt of a joke. Still…

I love sarcasm, when it’s done well.

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Many people feel guilty admitting that they like sarcasm. The negative aspects make many writers shy away. For humorists, sarcasm is a valid tool, but one with an edge, and it’s very easy to make the argument that sarcasm should be used with some discretion. There are few forms of humor that can so easily become, or be interpreted as, simply mean.

Studies and More Studies
The science geeks have weighed in heavily on sarcasm. It’s considered part of social intelligence, and numerous studies have concluded that sarcasm:

  • Activates more parts of the brain than literal truth.
  • Is understood by children as young as five.
  • Is perceived as more hurtful than plain-spoken criticism.
  • Can be seen as funny and mean at the same time.
  • Enhances creative problem solving.
  • Is more difficult for people over 65 to interpret.
  • Is more likely to be used with friends than enemies.
  • May be inherited. If your parents were sarcastic, you’re more likely to be sarcastic.
  • Can be used as a diagnostic tool. A failure to understand sarcasm may be an early warning sign of brain damage.

In the US, Northerners are more likely than Southerners to see sarcasm as funny, and many foreign cultures are perceived as not understanding sarcasm even though it’s found in almost every native language.

The British Parliament has removed all sarcasm from official records. The National Archives will, of course, display the two remaining pages.

My personal and quite unofficial study found that sarcasm springs from two primary sources: lively conversation and beer. The former produces such great lines as:

I never said he was stupid; I said he misspelled IQ.

And the latter produces a nearly limitless supply of volunteers for future studies.

Useful and Humorous
Most writers have created a despicable character or two (or one hundred), and giving the bad guy a sarcastic mean streak is perfectly acceptable. It also appears in non-fiction that is critical by design, such as a political rant.

My ultra-liberal opponent appears to be having trouble with his microphone, thank God!

A playfully sarcastic character is often perceived as superior, intelligent, charming, clever, and just a lot of fun.

Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence.
Oscar Wilde

On the other hand, the character who takes everything literally is perceived as either naïve or an idiot. Nothing quite says clueless like missing blatant sarcasm.

Sarcasm really is a wonderful tool for both characterizing and giving your reader a laugh. If you disagree, click here.

Parting Funny: I thought I was promiscuous, but it turns out I was just thorough.Russell Brand

Next Up: Politics as UNusual

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One thought on “Sarcasm: Are You PRO or CON?

  1. This is a very cool post. Love the science surrounding sarcasm. I often find myself drawn to the person who utters a dry bit of it. When done right, it tells me the person using it has insight, a quick wit, and courage to make light of certain situations. IMO, that’s a person aware and in control, and I find that quite sexy.

    Of course, sarcasm has its place, and I think, in writing, it can be used to show someone’s lack of intellect or couth, as well as to show their quick wit. Like any tool of the craft, it should be used with care.


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