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Sarcasm is the caustic use of
irony Irony (), in its broadest sense, is a rhetorical device In rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities involving creative imagination to express technical proficiency, beauty, emoti ...

irony
, in which words are used to communicate the opposite of their surface meaning, in a humorous way or to mock someone or something. Sarcasm may employ
ambivalenceAmbivalence is a state of having simultaneous conflicting reactions, beliefs, or feelings towards some object. Stated another way, ambivalence is the experience of having an attitude towards someone or something that contains both positively and neg ...
, although it is not necessarily ironic. Most noticeable in spoken word, sarcasm is mainly distinguished by the inflection with which it is spoken or, with an undercurrent of irony, by the extreme disproportion of the comment to the situation, and is largely
context Context may refer to: * Context (language use), the relevant constraints of the communicative situation that influence language use, language variation, and discourse summary. Computing * Context (computing), the virtual environment required to ...
-dependent.


Etymology

The word comes from the Greek σαρκασμός (''sarkasmós'') which is taken from σαρκάζειν (''sarkázein'') meaning "to tear flesh, bite the lip in rage, sneer".
Oxford English Dictionary The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the principal historical dictionary A historical dictionary or dictionary on historical principles is a dictionary which deals not only with the latterday meanings of words but also the historica ...
It is first recorded in English in 1579, in an annotation to ''
The Shepheardes Calender ''The Shepheardes Calender'' was Edmund Spenser Edmund Spenser (; 1552/1553 – 13 January 1599) was an English poet best known for ''The Faerie Queene'', an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the House of Tudor, Tudor dynasty and ...
'' by
Edmund Spenser Edmund Spenser (; 1552/1553 – 13 January 1599) was an English poet best known for ''The Faerie Queene ''The Faerie Queene'' is an English Epic poetry, epic poem by Edmund Spenser. Books IIII were first published in 1590, then republished i ...

Edmund Spenser
: However, the word ''sarcastic'', meaning "Characterized by or involving sarcasm; given to the use of sarcasm; bitterly cutting or caustic", doesn't appear until 1695.


Usage

In its entry on
irony Irony (), in its broadest sense, is a rhetorical device In rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities involving creative imagination to express technical proficiency, beauty, emoti ...

irony
, Dictionary.com describes sarcasm thus:
In sarcasm, ridicule or mockery is used harshly, often crudely and contemptuously, for destructive purposes. It may be used in an indirect manner, and have the form of irony, as in "What a fine musician you turned out to be!," "It's like you're a whole different person now...," and "Oh... Well then thanks for all the first aid over the years!" or it may be used in the form of a direct statement, "You couldn't play one piece correctly if you had two assistants." The distinctive quality of sarcasm is present in the spoken word and manifested chiefly by vocal inflection ...
Distinguishing sarcasm from
banter Conversation is interactive communication between two or more people. The development of conversational skills and etiquette is an important part of socialization. The development of conversational skills in a new language is a frequent focus o ...

banter
, and referring to the use of irony in sarcasm, Derek Bousfield writes that sarcasm is:
The use of strategies which, ''on the surface'' appear to be appropriate to the situation, but are meant to be taken as meaning the opposite in terms of ''face management''. That is, the utterance which appears, on the surface, to maintain or enhance the face of the recipient actually attacks and damages the face of the recipient. ... ''sarcasm'' is an insincere form of politeness which is used to offend one's interlocutor.
17.'Never a truer word said in jest': A Pragmastylistic Analysis of Impoliteness as Banter in Henry IV, Part I, Derek Bousfield (University of Huddersfield, UK) John Haiman writes: "There is an extremely close connection between sarcasm and irony, and literary theorists in particular often treat sarcasm as simply the crudest and least interesting form of irony." Also, he adds:
First, situations may be ironic, but only people can be sarcastic. Second, 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.
While
Henry Watson Fowler Henry Watson Fowler (10 March 1858 – 26 December 1933) was an English schoolmaster, List of lexicographers, lexicographer and commentator on the usage of the English language. He is notable for both ''A Dictionary of Modern English Usage'' and ...
writes:
Sarcasm does not necessarily involve irony. But irony, or the use of expressions conveying different things according as they are interpreted, is so often made the vehicle of sarcasm ... The essence of sarcasm is the intention of giving pain by (ironical or other) bitter words.
Sarcasm can be making uncertainty seem very certain, in fact, already done and that it was easy to determine.


In psychology

Professionals in psychology and related fields have long looked upon sarcasm negatively, particularly noting that sarcasm tends to be a maladaptive
coping mechanism Coping means to invest one's own conscious effort, to solve personal and interpersonal problems, in order to try to master, minimize or tolerate stress and conflict.Weiten, W. & Lloyd, M.A. (2008) ''Psychology Applied to Modern Life (9th ed.)''. ...
for those with unresolved anger or frustrations. Psychologist Clifford N. Lazarus describes sarcasm as "
hostility Hostility is seen as form of emotionally charged aggressive behavior. In everyday speech it is more commonly used as a synonym A synonym is a word, morpheme, or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word, morpheme, or phras ...
disguised as humor". While an occasional sarcastic comment may enliven a conversation, Lazarus suggests that too frequent use of sarcasm tends to "overwhelm the emotional flavor of any conversation".


Understanding

Understanding the subtlety of this usage requires second-order interpretation of the speaker's or writer's intentions; different parts of the brain must work together to understand sarcasm. This sophisticated understanding can be lacking in some people with certain forms of brain damage, dementia and sometimes autism, and this perception has been located by
MRI Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a medical imaging Medical imaging is the technique and process of imaging Imaging is the representation or reproduction of an object's form; especially a visual representation (i.e., the formation of a ...

MRI
in the right
parahippocampal gyrus The parahippocampal gyrus (or hippocampal gyrus') is a grey matter Grey matter (or gray matter) is a major component of the central nervous system, consisting of neuronal cell bodies, neuropil ( dendrites and unmyelinated axon An axon (fr ...

parahippocampal gyrus
. Research has shown that people with damage in the
prefrontal cortex In mammalian brain A brain is an organ that serves as the center of the nervous system In Biology, biology, the nervous system is a Complex system, highly complex part of an animal that coordinates its Behavior, actions and Sense, senso ...

prefrontal cortex
have difficulty understanding non-verbal aspects of language like tone, Richard Delmonico, a neuropsychologist at the
University of California, Davis The University of California, Davis (UC Davis, UCD, or Davis) is a Public university, public Land-grant university, land-grant research university near Davis, California. Named a Public Ivy, it is the northernmost of the ten campuses of the Uni ...
, told an interviewer. Such research could help doctors distinguish between different types of neurodegenerative diseases, such as frontotemporal dementia and
Alzheimer's disease Alzheimer's disease (AD), also referred to simply as Alzheimer's, is a that usually starts slowly and progressively worsens. It is the cause of 60–70% of cases of . The most common early symptom is difficulty in . As the disease advance ...
, according to David Salmon, a neuroscientist at the
University of California, San Diego The University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego or, colloquially, UCSD) is a public university, public Land-grant university, land-grant research university in San Diego, California. Established in 1960 near the pre-existing Scripps Inst ...
. In William Brant's ''Critique of Sarcastic Reason'', sarcasm is hypothesized to develop as a cognitive and emotional tool that adolescents use in order to test the borders of politeness and truth in conversation. Sarcasm recognition and expression both require the development of understanding forms of language, especially if sarcasm occurs without a cue or signal (e.g., a sarcastic tone or rolling the eyes). Sarcasm is argued to be more sophisticated than lying because lying is expressed as early as the age of three, but sarcastic expressions take place much later during development (Brant, 2012). According to Brant (2012, 145–6), sarcasm is Cultural perspectives on sarcasm vary widely with more than a few cultures and linguistic groups finding it offensive to varying degrees.
Thomas Carlyle Thomas Carlyle (4 December 17955 February 1881) was a Scottish Scottish usually refers to something of, from, or related to Scotland, including: *Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family native to Sco ...

Thomas Carlyle
despised it: "Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it".
Fyodor Dostoyevsky Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (, ; rus, Фёдор Михайлович Достоевский, Fyódor Mikháylovich Dostoyévskiy, p=ˈfʲɵdər mʲɪˈxajləvʲɪdʑ dəstɐˈjefskʲɪj, a=ru-Dostoevsky.ogg, links=yes; 11 November 18219 ...
, on the other hand, recognized in it a cry of pain: Sarcasm, he said, was "usually the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded." RFC 1855, a collection of guidelines for Internet communications, includes a warning to be especially careful with it as it "may not travel well." Another study of sarcasm over email verifies these claims. A professional translator has advised that international business executives "should generally avoid sarcasm in intercultural business conversations and written communications" because of the difficulties in translating sarcasm. A 2015 study by L. Huang, F. Gino and A.D. Galinsky of the Harvard Business School "tests a novel theoretical model in which both the construction and interpretation of sarcasm lead to greater creativity because they activate abstract thinking."


Vocal indication

In English, sarcasm is often telegraphed with kinesic/
prosodic In linguistics, prosody () is concerned with those elements of speech that are not individual phonetic segment (linguistics), segments (vowels and consonants) but are properties of syllables and larger units of speech, including linguistic functio ...
cues by speaking more slowly and with a lower pitch. Similarly, Dutch uses a lowered pitch; sometimes to such an extent that the expression is reduced to a mere mumble. But other research shows that there are many ways that real speakers signal sarcastic intentions. One study found that in
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale Yale University is a private Ivy League The Ivy League (also known as The Ancient Eight) is an American collegiate athletic conference comprising eight private research un ...

Cantonese
, sarcasm is indicated by raising the fundamental frequency of one's voice. In
Amharic Amharic ( or ; (Amharic: ), ', ) is an Ethiopian Semitic languages, Ethiopian Semitic language, which is a subgrouping within the Semitic languages, Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic languages. It is spoken as a first language by the Amhara pe ...

Amharic
, rising intonation is used to show sarcasm.Leslau, Wolf. Reference Grammar of Amharic. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1995. 45. Print.


Punctuation

Though in the English language there is no standard accepted method to denote irony or sarcasm in written conversation, several forms of punctuation have been proposed. Among the oldest and frequently attested are the percontation point—furthered by
Henry Denham Henry Denham was one of the outstanding England, English Printer (publisher), printers of the sixteenth century. He was apprenticed to Richard Tottel and took up the freedom of the Stationers' Company on 30 August 1560. In 1564 he set up his own pr ...
in the 1580s—and the —furthered by
Alcanter de Brahm Irony punctuation is any proposed form of notation used to denote irony or sarcasm in text. Written English language, English lacks a standard way to mark irony, and several forms of punctuation have been proposed. Among the oldest and most fre ...
in the 19th century. Both of these marks were represented visually by a ⸮ backwards question mark (unicode U+2E2E). Each of these punctuation marks are primarily used to indicate that a sentence should be understood as ironic, but not necessarily designate sarcasm that is not ironic. By contrast, more recent proposals, such as the snark mark, or the use of a following
tilde The tilde (
in the American Heritage dictionary
), or , is a

tilde
are specifically intended to denote sarcasm rather than irony. A bracketed exclamation point or question mark as well as
scare quotes Scare quotes (also called shudder quotes,Pinker, Steven. ''The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century''. Penguin (2014) sneer quotes, and quibble marks) are quotation mark Quotation marks, also known a ...
are also sometimes used to express irony or ironic sarcasm. In certain Ethiopic languages, sarcasm and unreal phrases are indicated at the end of a sentence with a sarcasm mark called temherte slaq, a character that looks like an inverted exclamation point ¡. The usage directly parallels
John Wilkins John Wilkins, (14 February 161419 November 1672) was an Anglican ministry, Anglican clergyman, natural philosophy, natural philosopher and author, and was one of the founders of the Royal Society. He was Bishop of Chester from 1668 until his d ...

John Wilkins
' 1668 proposal to use the inverted
exclamation point The exclamation mark, , also sometimes referred to as the exclamation point, especially in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties o ...
as an irony mark. A proposal by Asteraye Tsigie and Daniel Yacob in 1999 to include the ''temherte slaq'' in unicode was unsuccessful.


Identifying

A French company has developed an analytics tool that claims to have up to 80% accuracy in identifying sarcastic comments posted online. In June 2014, the
United States Secret Service The United States Secret Service (USSS or Secret Service) is a Federal law enforcement in the United States, federal law enforcement agency under the United States Department of Homeland Security, Department of Homeland Security charged with con ...
requested bids for software that would identify sarcasm in tweets.


Legality

In late August 2016,
North Korea North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), is a country in East Asia, constituting the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. It borders China and Russia to the north, at the Yalu River, Yalu (Amnok) and Tu ...

North Korea
banned sarcasm against the government. It was reported that the government gave the warnings in mass meetings across the country. Subsequent media reports suggest that North Korea banned sarcasm altogether.


See also

* Facetiousness *
GuiltiveThe guiltive is a term introduced by John Haiman (linguist), John Haiman for the speaker attitude whereby the speaker overtly presents themself as generous or indifferent but actually means the opposite of what they are saying, with the intention of ...
*
Hyperbole Hyperbole (, ; adjective form hyperbolic, ) is the use of exaggeration Exaggeration is the representation of something as more extreme or dramatic than it really is. Exaggeration may occur intentionally or unintentionally. Exaggeration can ...
*
Irony Irony (), in its broadest sense, is a rhetorical device In rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities involving creative imagination to express technical proficiency, beauty, emoti ...

Irony
*
Oxymoron An oxymoron (usual plural oxymorons, more rarely oxymora) is a rhetorical device In rhetoric, a rhetorical device, persuasive device, or stylistic device is a ''technique'' that an author or speaker uses to convey to the listener or reader a Mean ...
*
Paradox A paradox is a logically self-contradictory statement or a statement that runs contrary to one's expectation. It is a statement that, despite apparently valid reasoning from true premises, leads to a seemingly self-contradictory or a logically u ...

Paradox
*
Sardonicism To be sardonic is to be disdainfully or cynically humorous, or scornfully mocking. A form of wit or humour, being sardonic often involves expressing an uncomfortable truth in a clever and not necessarily malicious way, often with a degree of skepti ...
*
Smirk A smirk is a smile A smile is formed primarily by flexing the muscle Muscle is a soft tissue found in most animals. Muscle cells contain protein Proteins are large biomolecules or macromolecules that are comprised of one or more lo ...

Smirk
*
Snarl A snarl is a sound, often a growl or vicious utterance, often accompanied by a facial expression, where the upper lip is raised, and the nostrils widen, generally indicating hate, anger or pain. In addition to humans, other mammals including m ...
*
Sneer A sneer is a facial expression of scorn or disgust characterized by a slight raising of one corner of the upper lip, known also as curling the lip or turning up the nose. In ''The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals'', Charles Darwin defin ...
*
Tongue-in-cheek The idiom An idiom is a phrase In everyday speech, a phrase is any group of words, often carrying a special idiomatic meaning; in this sense it is synonymous with expression. In Linguistics#Analysis, linguistic analysis, a phrase is a group of wo ...
*
Witticism Wit is a form of intelligent humour Humour (English in the Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth English) or humor (American English; American and British English spelling differences#-our, -or, see spelling differences) is the tendency of ...


References


External links


BBC News Magazine - The rules of sarcasm
{{Authority control Humour Figures of speech Rhetoric Irony