Sarcasm isn’t always ironic

Just a random thought in a quick post today…

Earlier, while browsing one of the Facebook groups I belong to, I read a post directed at newcomers. The original poster saw the need to condescend to them and explain how sarcasm works, via a linked article, which of course I did not read. But I did read the title, which explained that sarcasm is all about saying the opposite of what you mean.

I did a double-take. What, sarcasm is always ironic? So I’ve been wrong all these years? Thus I spent a few minutes searching for varying definitions of sarcasm in online dictionaries. At first I was taken aback, thinking that I had indeed been wrong, until I found this one.

  1. a taunting, sneering, cutting, or caustic remark; gibe or jeer, generally ironic
  2. the making of such remarks
  3. their characteristic quality

(Emphasis mine.)

OK, I’m off the hook. The definition in my head is that sarcasm can be any witty retort used to mock, ridicule or deride – a statement that may be ironic, but doesn’t have to be. I’m disappointed that many dictionaries seem to get it wrong, in that they state that sarcasm is always ironic. It seems that many people also get it wrong, which helps explain why people often don’t get sarcasm… To be fair though, written sarcasm can be difficult to get, especially when the statement is ironic. Spoken words convey the sarcasm more easily because the tone of voice often gives them away, and it’s more difficult to convey tone in written words.

Since I love writing anecdotes, I’ll illustrate this with an example: I happen to remember the first time I was ever sarcastic, which stands out for me because it was the day that my father taught me the word “sarcasm” itself. I was twelve years old. (Josh has me beat here… He’s only eight but already uses sarcasm naturally, and recognizes it. He punches me when I’m sarcastic to him.)

Anyway, I don’t remember the whole context, but do remember the gist of the conversation… It was a picture on television, or a newspaper or something, that conveyed an emotional attachment between people, and my father had given a similar example of a husband and wife. (I’m totally making this part up. I really don’t remember.) I retorted, “One man and his dog”, with emphasis on the word “dog”. And everybody laughed, because my sarcastic comment ridiculed the subject at hand.

In my example, I didn’t say the opposite of what I meant. I said exactly what I meant, and it was still sarcasm.

Just thought I’d share that random thought… Use it / don’t use it.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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