GUEST POST from Don: Why Sarcasm Does Not Translate


I could enjoy writing with sarcasm but a significant number of readers would not understand.  The same thing would happen for you.  Understanding written sarcasm requires a higher-than-average level of intelligence along with some familiarity.  Over the years, being in the service industry, I met thousands who did not have the intelligence to understand it.  Were there some in your high school graduating class who were lucky to graduate?  There were precisely 57 graduates in mine and at least 3 did so by the skin of their teeth.  Another 10 were in the “not very bright” category.  I’m not being cruel, just reporting facts.  They probably also participate in social media.  In order for readers with moderate acuity to “get” the sarcasm an author has to set it up, deliver it, then reveal it.  That’s a lot of work for a simple gag.  It is far easier to tell a joke.  “Two men went into a bar…”  See, almost everyone already knows it is a joke.  Easy.

A friend declared he appreciates irony far more then sarcasm.  In fact, he dislikes all sarcasm.  He believes those who use it have an anger problem.  He may be right.  However, sarcasm has its uses.  I could tell a smoker, “Those will kill you.”  Or, I could say it sideways, “That’s healthy.”  It means the same thing, except it adds some snarky creativity.  

Nevertheless, many communication experts and those dealing in couples counseling warn against its use.  Simply, “sarcasm carries the poisonous sting of contempt.”  Thus, it should never be used during any argument, for sure.  It should also be cautiously used in a close relationship and only when you intend good will.  My wife and I knew a couple who struggled in their relationship because of constant “kind” digs at one another.  Bad idea!

Another way to waste your creativity in tasks for which they are unsuited is to use sarcasm with total strangers (think social media).  Those folks do not know you.  They are not familiar with how you think.  Some may even be from other countries or cultures.  They do not know when or if you are joking.  AND they certainly do not know whether you are being sarcastic or are merely ignorant.  In almost every instance they will assume you are ignorant.  If you wanted an opportunity to spend an hour EXPLAINING your statement to people who do not care … this is for you.

On the other side of the issue, one researcher commented, “The use of sarcasm, in fact, appears to promote creativity for those on both the giving and receiving end of the exchange. Instead of avoiding snarky remarks completely, our research suggests that, used with care and in moderation, clever quips can trigger creative sparks.”  The study tested the creative ability of one group after having a conversation including some sarcasm (vs a “control” group where sarcasm was not enjoyed).  In that study, the “sarcasm” group’s creativity was bolstered, while the “control” group’s was … ordinary.  Probably the Devil is in the details and I did not feel like wasting 74 minutes reading the study details to find it.  So, I chose to just report from the summary.

It also does not translate because many confuse irony and sarcasm.  Some think “irony” is similar to “sarcasm.”  This is not true.  Irony is greatly misunderstood by the masses.  Some think it is ironic when someone accidentally gets their “due.”  Nope.  That’s not.  Irony has nothing to do with chance or luck.  Irony is almost entirely about expectation.  You expect the hero to win, but he loses.  That’s irony.

If you expect the winner of the lottery to say he’s happy now, but he reports that he is sad, that is irony.  But if the winner of the lottery is sad but he sideways chirps, “I’m so happy!”  That’s sarcasm.

Now for the big reveal:  Written sarcasm fails more often than spoken sarcasm.  Another study showed that in conversations the hearer failed to “get” the sarcasm 27% of the time.  Wow!  We have to find ways to improve this.  The study used people who did not know one another.  This suggests that one way to improve this communication skill is to forego the use of sarcasm with strangers, unless we want ¼ of them to miss our meaning.  I can see situations where engendering miscommunication might prove helpful…like in politics.

On the other hand, the same study concluded that WRITTEN sarcasm failed to communicate accurately with strangers a whopping 44%.  That is ironic because I was expecting it to be only 33%.

Oscar Wilde is said to have remarked:  “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence.”  I disagree about it being the lowest form of wit…that award probably goes to “knock-knock” jokes (which are overly complicated puns).

Copyright 2023 Donald Whelpley

[PLEASE NOTE that Don is always open to discussing the thoughts and opinions he shares here and welcomes comments as shared in the comment section. He doesn’t use other social media platforms, as I do, and won’t see whatever you’d like to share with him elsewhere. ~ Sherry]


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~ How To Retire On Less ~ State Song ~ The “Holier Than Thou” Attitude of “The Boy Who Cried ‘Wolf’” ~
~ THE TRUTH ~ H.A.L.T ~ Where’s The Clamor? ~ Parents Who Lie ~ Odd Places ~ Internet Is Fragile ~ Shopping ~ Student Loans ~
~ A Government ~ Going To Church ~ Anheuser-Busch ~ Hans Van Doorn ~ The Wrong Problem ~ Talking About Money ~
~ Trustworthy ~ A Life More Beautiful ~ TECH with ATTITUDE! ~ Black Drink ~ Public Schools III ~ Public Schools II ~
~ Public Schools I ~ 5-Star Reviews ~ Fractions Matter! ~ Small Spoons ~ Dumpster ~ Weird Forgiveness III ~ Weird Forgiveness II ~
~ Weird Forgiveness I ~ Classified Documents ~ Future You Needs A Friend ~ Feeling Understood ~ Starting The New Year Right ~
~ Awe! Aah! Ooh! ~ Christmas As A Poor (Rich) Child ~ Bigger Problems ~ Blessing ~ Climate Change – 2 ~
~ Medical Science Too Far? ~ Gravity and Light ~ Travel Fun ~ Fascinating People: Gloria Hartman Doughty ~
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~ IN-CRE-MEN-TAL-ISM ~ Bad Friends & Broken Tools ~ Pools Are For The Birds?? ~ Animals Hindering Your Financial Freedom ~
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