Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sarcasm Revealed

Definition of SARCASM from Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary:
1. a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain
2. a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual

Origin of SARCASM:
From the Greek sarkasmos, from sarkazein to tear flesh

I recently read a pretty disturbing article written for a small newspaper that was posted on its website and quickly removed by the editor. Some have opined that the inflammatory article was posted for page hits, and page hits it did get. I’m not linking to it or naming the paper because I’m not into helping that paper get more page hits, and the article has been taken down anyway. But the editor’s apology note was qualified with the statement that the author’s attempt at sarcasm missed the mark. Having had some experience with sarcasm, it got me thinking. Sometimes when I think, I write. Sometimes when I write, I share. (Although I share very rarely here these days. Sorry, yo.)

Sarcasm: the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.
~Fyodor Dostoevsky

Saying Dostoyevsky was talented with words is an understatement, to be sure. That said, I don’t think he’s quite right (although in Googling for a quote on sarcasm to help make my point about pain, perhaps the quote I found on a quote-y website is taken out of some greater context that I have not tracked further). Dostoyevsky is saying that sarcasm comes from a place of deep pain, and I think that much is on the money. But I don’t think sarcasm has to be the last refuge of decent folk. And we are all decent folk, or we each have at least a seed of decency inside of us. Do we really need to hurt others so that we feel better, however subconsciously some of us may do so? If so, then sarcasm makes us the emotional equivalent of a schoolyard bully.

Sarcasm is a form of communication that heavily relies on vocal intonation and context in order that it has a humorous, satirical, or ironic effect on the listener. Humor, satire, and irony may incorporate sarcasm, but the message’s receiver would have to be in on the joke AND think it is funny AND not feel hurt (or feel the anger that “covers up” hurt). Sarcastic “humor” is the velvet glove that covers the iron fist of rudeness and hostility when there isn’t that shared understanding between the speaker and listener. Absent BOTH sides SHARING the laugh, sarcastic remarks are better classified under the heading of “unfunny, mean-spirited, denigration, or even (as we have all seen) drunken, ignorant” remarks.

Now before you think I’m gettin’ all judge-y about others’ use of sarcasm, it may shock you to find out that I am just self-aware enough (from spending a vast fortune on therapy, and countless hours studying and TRYING to practice spiritual principles) to know that I have misguidedly used sarcasm as a “humorous” means by which to deflect my pain. It didn’t work. I still had pain. Then I caused more pain. And the cycle of pain continued until said fortune spent on therapy and countless hours studying and TRYING to practice spiritual principles caused me to at least become aware of it, and I would like to think much better at not doing it, too.

If sarcastic remarks are to be a favored tool by some, perhaps it would be best to confine such remarks to private conversations with other mean people. Better still would be to lose the sarcasm and feel the pain. It won’t kill you. Warning: It might make you eat cupcakes. Hey, I’m a work in progress.


Janet said...

one of my honey's nephews relies on sarcasm quite a makes me uncomfortable to be around him.

The Rat said...

mmmmm cupcakes!!!! as soon as I saw that word I forgot what the rest was about. Don't worry, I read it over again. :)

ms-teacher said...

Y'know, I only clicked over onto this article because I thought it would be chock full of sarcasm. How disappointing! .

(Seriously, great stuff here!)

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

My SIL (actually, I have 5 of them, but only one does this) uses sarcastic humor quite a bit. My kids didn't see her as often as other kids and she would forget this and use her trademark comments... and my kids would stare at her uncomprehendingly, sometimes with pain, sometimes with confusion. She does it much less often now, for which I am grateful.
My poison of choice is the cupcake variety... or really, food in general.

She Curmudgeon said...

Bravo. I like to think that snark is different, but I know it's really not, so I am trying over all to be a little less Mean Girl and a lot more like teflon, so I don't let the stuff bother me in the first place.

Beth said...

I’ve been smacked by someone wearing that velvet glove – no more. And still using clothing as metaphor – sarcasm also “cloaks” inadequacy and a sense of inferiority.

I deal with my pain with tears, talk, writing and laughter – nobody else gets hurt. (I hope.)

Excellent post. Your journey is taking you far…and I’m reaping the benefits!

Gary's third pottery blog said...

I do think, though, that when speaking with my spouse, if we are looking at an incident or what someone says, it is a fun way of relieving tension when we might say, for example, of a car blowing through a stop "Make sure you speed up when you see that red sign!".

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

That's so true about real sarcasm cutting--I find people who are that way terribly unfunny. It's one thing to include yourself in humor, but when it's all at the expense of another person's pride, well, it's mean.

Jason, as himself said...

Again, wise words from one of my favorite people.

Thank you for these thoughts.

Chrisy said...

You're a genius. I love you. And I don't want to be sarcastic. XO

Lala said...

As a native of the Isle of Sarkasmos (I kid, and yet I wish it were true just because I love that name) I grew up speaking the native language. Once I had kids though, and saw the effects of comments made only for the laughs, or to ease my own insecurity, I quickly stopped using it. I must confess though, I slip into it when I've had too much to drink Thanks for writing this. It is something I need to hear.