Monday, June 20, 2011

Sarcasm under the Microscope

I’m trying to figure out what I think about sarcasm. Maybe you can help.

I admit, I’m a confessed sarcasm user. I use the innocent kind, not the stabbing, wounding kind born of deep-seated insecurities. Or is the kind I use all that innocent? Here’s where I’m stuck.

Is all sarcasm bad?

I have a tendency to paint just about any situation with a touch of humor. When I throw out a sarcastic comment on Twitter, let’s say, or here on the blog, I express it not in a mean, stick it to you way, but rather a playful, let’s see if you can tell I’m joking way.

But intentions and delivery often end up getting tangled. (Isn’t this true with so many things in life?)

So, here’s my question to you, can you tell when I’m joking?

Humor has become my default. Humor and would you believe it…silence? This is what I resort to when I’m feeling deeply. Fear. Anxiety. Shame. If any of those feelings are jabbing at me as intensely as a magician stabbing knives at the lady in the box, then I’m finding a way to laugh my way out of that box.

Some of this is human nature. A mental form of flight from the fight or flight reflex. A defense mechanism. Call it what you will, but I have to believe most of my sarcasm stems from a pure desire to instigate laughter.

Here’s where the word gets really sticky. I’m a highly sensitive individual so it’s often I can dish it out, but I can’t always take it. (Especially during a certain time of month…yeah hormones!) Oh, I put on a happy face and give my best courtesy laugh. But inside I’m shredded more than any Frosted Mini Wheat. Torn up. Usually this is in response to the ugly kind of sarcasm. But you’d be amazed. The mean kind and the “innocent” kind are like the similar coral and scarlet snakes. One is poisonous, one isn’t.

But they’re both snakes.

Help me out here…is all sarcasm bad?

*photos by flickr


  1. Okay....first, I love your analogies. The magician one and the mini wheat one. Both made me smile.

    Second....oh goodness, I don't know!

    I know I use sarcasm occasionally. But like you, I don't do it from a place of contempt. I do it to kid. To joke. Oftentimes, to poke fun at myself.

    I think this is one of those gray things in life. Not black and white. I think....

  2. I totally get your sarcasm, probably because I use my own. And I, like you, have always used sarcasm to add some amount of lightness to a heavy situation, or to just add humor.

    But yes, we sometimes run the risk of being sarcastic in social media and an unsuspecting person might not get it. I definitely can only hope that no one would ever take anything I might say as mean spirited, because I would never knowingly do so. As I know you wouldn't either.

  3. One problem with sarcasm on twitter/facebook/email (at least that I've found) is that tone isn't picked up. And eye-contact isn't made. So, much of my sarcasm has been taken wrong. And I've hurt people unintentionally.

    I think that's part of the danger of "online sarcasm".

  4. I agree with susiefinkbeiner above. Reading sarcasm is a bit different than hearing it. Not hearing the tone of voice can confuse the reader in some instances.

  5. I LOVE your humor! But maybe that's because my husband is the KING of sarcasm--but the funny kind definitely not the mean kind.
    (and now that sarcasm is rubbing off on my kiddo so now I have two comedians in the house) :)

    My friend who is a policeman had a some seminar on texting and emails and how tone can't always come through them and can make a difference on how something is perceived. I think about that a lot when I'm commenting or emailing etc... (which is why I use a lot fo smiley faces and lol etc.. in my messages)

    So...what was the question?
    Oh, yeah. No, I don't think all sarcasm is bad. :)

  6. Not all sarcasm is bad. The Apostle Paul used sarcasm many times in his epistles.

    Some sarcasm is very wounding, but I'm pretty sure the user is well aware of both his target and his ordinance payload when he drops a sarcasm bomb on someone.

    I love playful sarcasm and wit.

  7. I dont think it's bad, but I have often been misunderstood when writing it in an email or text. I think we have to be careful and know the person we are talking/writing to. I like a little positive sarcasm!

  8. I'm totally biased with this question, because I hate most sarcasm, and the reason is that I am highly sensitive, just like you. I enjoy sarcasm in a movie or comedy show, but not in my everyday life dealings. I think it's too hard to interpret where the person is coming from especially in this age of technology where nothing is face to face any more.

  9. I don't think all sarcasm is bad. I'm often fueled by the joy of being able to dispense it. It is not safe for everyone. Either you have the gift or you don't.

  10. You've never come across as mean! I am sarcastic, but I direct it to myself when I'm online. I would hate to hurt someone unintentionally. And like Jennifer S. said, I use a lot of exclamations and smileys!

  11. Wendy, you've never come across as mean to me! I think we even have a similar sense of humor. I'd be lost without sarcasm--so no, I don't think it's bad! ;)

  12. Don't fret. I love sarcasm and use it all the time. I think for the most part, people can tell if you're being venomous or playful. The bonus of txting or tweeting is adding a ;) It seems to cut confusion.

    Great Post!

  13. Wendy, I'm in the same boat. I use a lot of sarcasm when I'm joking around. I have to be careful, though, because I have a very literal relative who hardly ever "gets it."

    I had a friend growing up whose family would always be sarcastically stabbing at each other, but it wasn't nice. There is a difference. As long as the people you are with know where you're coming from-- and that your comments stem from humor and not malice-- I think you're fine. :) It's like many things in life: in moderation, no problem.


  14. I enjoy a healthy dose of sarcasm, and I believe if it's used without malicious intent, it's fun. I don't like venomous sarcasm. The trick is using it with the right audience.

    I can always tell when you're joking, and I enjoy your wit. I really do. :) BTW loved your analogies.


  15. Wendy, I totally get your humor. Maybe it's because I have the same twisted mindset, hahaha!

    I agree, though, that sarcasm can be innocent, but when it takes a wrong turn, it's time to keep it inside and ask for some redirection from above.

  16. When used in good fun, I love a good dose of it--in movies, TV, books and blogs!

  17. Wendy, you've never come across as mean spirited.

    I think sarcasm is something that needs to be used with great care. If a person doesn't know us well, they could be hurt even by the innocent kind.

    As others have said, it's particularly tricky on social media where body language and tone of voice are absent.

    Susan :)

  18. As others have said, sarcasm is a tricky think and even tricker in written word. I try to only use it around people who understand it, so in that case I don't think all sarcasm is bad.

  19. Wendy, I've never thought of the types of sarcasm like those snakes. That's a great visual. I think it can go both ways, depending on the mood/emotion of the one speaking and the mood/emotion of the one listening. How's that for straddling the fence?

  20. Wendy, I think we need a different word for what you do, and it's a word I love. The innocent kind of sarcasm is also called "dry wit." I think this is a much better description than sarcasm, which to me implies the harsher tone.

    I love dry humor, which is aimed as often at oneself as anyone else. Dry humor is a sign that we don't take the world and its puffed-up people too seriously, but we still love them.


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