Sarcasm is a funny thing. And I don’t necessarily mean funny hah-hah. The difference in meanings used when we make a sarcastic remark often conveys disapproval or scorn which some people find hurtful or a bit below the belt. No doubt, in certain instances, sarcasm can be quite cutting but it can also have impact. For instance, if I said to my husband, “Thanks so much for all your help with cleaning the house,” whilst he was sitting watching TV, he would probably take more notice of my sarcastic tone than if I was to say “Can you help with the cleaning please?” which would no doubt fall on deaf ears.
Oscar Wilde wrote that “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence,” and generally I find that people seem to either enjoy this sense of double meaning quips or hate it. Some are afraid of sarcasm because quite often the comments can be barbed or contemptuous. Communication experts and marriage counsellors often advise against using sarcasm because it can be seen as a bit of a put down. But recent research now says that sarcasm can actually promote creativity so perhaps Oscar Wilde was right after all. It seems that both people involved in a sarcastic exchange have to think creatively to come up with a sarcastic comment and then understand the contradiction between the literal and actual meanings.
Me? I love a bit of sarcasm. I’ve grown up in a family with quite a dry, sarcastic sense of humour where we were all encouraged to “laugh at ourselves.” This had an impact on my life in several ways. At school, I gravitated towards the girls who shared a similar sense of humour. No being part of the cool gang for me. Instead my friends and I were the ones laughing, mocking or making cutting remarks about certain situations, but mostly about each other. Our shared appreciation for general mickey taking and dry humour has spanned almost 3 decades and I’m proud to say that we are still the same whenever we get together now.
Surely sarcasm is all about context and who you’re talking to. I’m very sarcastic with people I know and trust, – like my family and close friends. People who I know won’t be offended by my dry comments. But I’d never dream of being sarcastic with someone I’d only just met (not unless they’d made a quip to me first!). I also mostly avoid sarcasm in emails and text messages. Written communication, especially when you’re not there to deliver a withering look along with the verbal message can only lead to an avalanche of “what did you mean by that?” or “Do you hate me?” replies.
Sarcasm with Kids
It occurred to me the other day. At what point do we develop a sarcastic sense of humour? At what point do children understand it? I had this thought whilst dealing with my 3 year old in the toilet. She has a habit of disappearing upstairs, stripping off naked to go for a poo, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day, and then hollering down for me when she’s finished. As I traipsed upstairs to do my duty, I casually remarked “Oh goody, it’s mummy’s favourite job of the day.” She beamed up at me and now, I swear, whenever she goes for a poo and shouts out for me, she yells, “Mummy! It’s your favourite job of the day,” with absolutely no hint of irony at all.
I wonder at what point the penny suddenly drops? At what point in our life do we suddenly realise, “She’s having me on. She doesn’t really mean that at all.”?
I’d love to know what you think. Are you sarcastic? Do you appreciate a sarcastic sense of humour or do you prefer to say what you mean?!