Sarcasm

“Sarcasm is the use of certain remarks to convey the opposite of what is said, to show contempt or derision.” That is quite a dated definition and it has evolved to mean so much more. You’re probably wondering, “Why should I read about something I’m the best at?” To you Masters of Sarcasm, I say, read on, for sarcasm is more than just a Tool of Ridicule, it’s an index of sorts. An article on sarcasm is bound to have some of it, so my (in)sincerest apologies in advance for the same.

The use of sarcasm has been greatly popularised by English sitcoms and movies and is now all too common in informal spaces. If used properly and sparingly, sarcasm is a neat form of communication. It helps to build rapport with acquaintances, to get a point across in a discussion or debate, to establish authority and even as a filter for ideas. In a friends’ circle, Sarcasm is the primary form of communication. It is an abstract measure of the closeness of the group. These days, you’re a ‘savage’ if you’re sarcastic, and aptly so, because the word ‘sarcasm’ is derived from the Greek word ‘sarkazein’, which means to “tear or rip the flesh off”. The more ‘savage’ the quips, the more closely knit the group.

Sarcasm has many psychological connotations. (Legit) Studies suggest that sarcastic people have a lot of insecurities and that their sarcasm is a manifestation of those troubles. It is a form of aimless passive-aggressive anger, or a subconscious need to assert superiority by putting others down, or maybe, a want of validation. Also, sarcasm is suggestive of a cynical (rather than sceptical) attitude towards other people and their ideas. It is indicative of an aloof personality because sarcasm is essentially an insult veiled as a joke one needn’t take responsibility for because of the tone with which it was delivered. Here, I had to take a moment off the keyboard because all of this was quite relatable. Do I need to see a shrink?

Every psychology article I read about sarcasm, had this one quote by Oscar Wilde, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”, and thought to myself, “Wow, maybe he’s right”, and then I read the full quote, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence”, and I was convinced that he was right (rattling away at the keyboard at this point). Sarcasm has a direct correlation with intelligence. Other (more favourable) studies have shown that sarcastic people are more likely to see through lies (call you out on your BS), are better problem solvers, are more tactful and are more creative. This is because it requires quick thinking to come up with a sarcastic response, researchers concluded. Children who can detect sarcasm in everyday conversations are also found to have faster cognitive functioning.

The sexes view sarcasm very differently. Between (among?) the genders, women are more likely to pass a sarcastic comment, but are also more likely to be offended by one. Men’s sarcasm is found to be sharper and more refined. Found by whom? Analysts. While men view sarcasm as banter or light hearted humour, women look at it as degrading. My first page of Google search results yielded a priceless article called “Women are better at Sarcasm”. Definitely worth a read. Also, women are attracted to men who have a better sense of sarcasm, but are reported to have ended relationships because their hubbies were being constantly condescending with their sarcasm.

Sarcasm is an art, and subtlety is key. Deftly and eloquently making use of sarcasm will make one look cultured and classy (James Bond – esque) and is a display of incisive wit. But sarcasm can be very vague or equivocal at times, and is an ineffective method of communication in most formal circles. Often, sarcasm meant as jest can get lost in translation and can seem quite offensive. When spoken bluntly and without forethought, sarcasm sounds ruffian. Sarcasm is also heavily reliant on non-verbal cues like body language for the message to be conveyed. Since it is so hard to get right in speech, it is rarely used in written texts, as the tone of voice and body language perceived by the reader is subject to their mood/mindset right then. Sarcasm conveyed in the intended way in written text is the mark of a skilled writer.

– Ashwin Sridhar
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