Sarcasm, Now with Extra Sarcasm…

According to the Oxford english Dictionary, the word “Sarcasm” derives from ancient Greek for “to tear flesh, gnash the teeth, speak bitterly.” It’s first definition is “a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter gibe or taunt.” Although sarcasts may just intend to be funny, their words can also be very hurtful to the intended target. Of course, in myu opinion, there-in lies the appeal of this artform, disguised as humour.

It is the most well worn tool in my comedy utility belt – and has been for the majority of my life. For some reason I have almost always been able to quickly uncover the nugget, seize it, load it up in my big happy catapult of sarcastic fun and fire it back. In the vast majority of cases, I seldom season a comment with actual malice… but occasionally….. I save the truly devastating for situations where I feel not only is it warranted but almost required. When I see someone being unfairly picked on, when I’m forced to endure some pompous moron… a well timed, incisive, observative comment can obliterate the person on the receiving end….. and when it works well, it’s magic.

That I’m sarcastic should come as no surprise to any of you, the fact that it’s something I work at, might. Situations may be ironic, but only people can be sarcastic . People may be unintentionally ironic, but sarcasm requires intention. What is essential to sarcasm is that it is overt irony intentionally used by the speaker as a form of verbal aggression. I’m not sure if I subscribe to this definition 100% – there is no doubt sarcasm is in no way passive – it actually requires an amazing amount of lightining quick conclusions and decisions be made before the appropraite remark can be hurled into the fray.

Personally I use it more in the spirit of an interesting give and take between consenting participants. Rather than a way to wreak havoc on everyone I interact with. Were that the case noone would ever speak to me again, which is where the verbal aggression definition doesn’t ring true. Unless you are some monster intent on always sinking the battleship of everyone you come into contact with, and really, what’s the point of that?

Sarcasm almost always works best in a spoken format, with a myraid of verbal and visual cues, tone, intonation, facial expression and body language all contributing to the over-all effect. My dilemma is not with spoken sarcasm but instead with this blog, the written form. Does it translate when written with no other cues to help you, the reader, determine the tone of a comment. When sarcasm is written instead of spoken, the reader must be able to tell from the context as there is no intonation to rely upon. This difficulty may be the origin of the axiom “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence.” Some writers have proposed the use of a sarcasm mark, an upside-down exclamation point at the end of a word or sentence to denote that it was intended to be taken as sarcastic.

Rather than all that jazz, I try and be a better writer and through the use of set-up and context allow the meaning to come through loud and clear. Sometimes, I hope, it works – other times I’m sure people mis-interpret my meaning – it’s the risk I take… at least until I become a better writer and so, preclude any mis-interpretation by the succint use of language to convey exactly what I mean. Ideally the only reason you should ever be confused by something I’ve written it’s because I want you to be….. not sure that is the case quite yet… but I’ll get there.


Have a Great Day……