There is a bit of an ongoing debate on the specific definition of “sarcasm,” and what the differences are between “sarcasm” and “verbal irony.”
Most would agree that all sarcasm is based on verbal irony, but not all verbal irony is considered sarcasm. There are additional qualities that separate sarcasm from verbal irony, and some consider this difference to be that sarcasm tends to have an insulting nature, while verbal irony does not.
Therefor, sarcasm generally refers to a rhetorical device that which is aimed at mocking someone or something, mostly with the use of satirical remarks. The primary intentions of sarcasm are to hurt or amuse. Most actors and comedians utilize this rhetoric device for comic effect.
You cannot rely on words alone to bring out sarcasm in your speech. You need to incorporate some fundamental elements such as intonation, pitch variation and stress to emphasize certain words or phrases to enable the one listening to you to understand your intention.
Most people usually employ what is known as “inverse pitch obtrusion” to bring out sarcasm in their speech. It involves pitching a given syllable lower than the other words. By doing so, the listener can differentiate between you being sincere and being sarcastic. For instance, consider the following example of sarcasm:
Tasty soup, huh?
Saying the word “Tasty” with a high pitch will imply that you are sincere. However, saying the same word with a low pitch will imply sarcasm.
Another way of expressing sarcasm is by elongating the words. Take for example a word like “Wow.” Typically, this word is used to show excitement. However, if you prolong the word and say it with a flat tone, it will signify sarcasm.
For those of us who have difficulties in picking up on these vocal cues, you can quickly identify sarcasm through context. If you are listening to a comedian and all along he has been talking about how terrible his wife is at cooking and then he finalizes by saying “I already miss my wife’s tasty meals,” you can tell that he is just mocking the wife’s cooking prowess.
Research shows that we perceive sarcasm differently based on our age. Most children, especially at the age of 5 and below, rely on sarcastic intonation for them to infer sarcasm. At this age, they cannot easily differentiate between a lie and a sarcastic statement when one uses context as the only cue. Older kids can, however, tell sarcasm based on context.
Psychologists have associated the inability to detect or understand sarcasm to brain diseases. For instance, autistic people find it hard to detect sarcasm. This is because they cannot easily comprehend the relationship between language, context, and intention.
Sarcasm Vs Irony, What’s the Difference?
Irony refers to the uses of expressions, sentences or words with definite meaning in a way to mean the opposite or bring out an emphatic or humorous effect. Sarcasm, on the other hand, refers to the use of irony to make a witty attack on someone.
Irony shows a paradoxical or subversive relationship between expression and intention. It can either be dramatic, situational or verbal. Sarcasm is strictly verbal.
Another significant difference is that, whereas sarcasm is mainly intended to attack, mock or hurt someone, irony is not necessarily designed to hurt people. It can be innocent. More importantly, only people can be sarcastic, and not situations and only situations can be ironic and not people.
Sarcastic Examples of Sarcasm
- Son: “I am going to attend my friend’s party today.”
Mom: “Oh great! We all know how well you behaved the last time you attended one.”
Reality: The son behaved terribly last time, and mom doesn’t have a lot of faith that this time will be much better.
- Thank you for infecting me with the flu!
Reality: Nobody is thankful for the flu.
- Well, excuuuuuse me!
Reality: I’m not actually sorry.
- Hooray! I have a headache
Reality: Only a masochist would cheer a headache.
- I love how stupid you are!
Reality: I might love you, but I could do without the stupidity.
- That was the smaaartest thing I’ve ever heard!
Reality: That was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.
- Your friends here on Earth think that’s a GREAT idea!
Reality: Your idea is so ridiculous, we’re not quite sure you’re even human.
- Wow, you’re baby is VERY cute! Not even a little bit ugly!
Reality: Ugly baby.