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Think Sarcasm is Funny? Think Again

Is sarcasm really just hostility disguised as humor?

Key points

  • Like spices in cooking, sarcasm is best used in moderation. Too much will overwhelm the emotional flavor of a conversation.
  • When a person is consistently sarcastic, it may only serve to heighten their own underlying hostility.
  • Clever wit, as opposed to sarcasm, is usually devoid of hostility and thus more appreciated by others.

If you want to be happier and improve your relationships, cut out sarcasm. Why? Because sarcasm is actually hostility disguised as humor.

Despite smiling outwardly, many people who receive sarcastic comments feel put down and often think the sarcastic person is a jerk. Indeed, it’s not surprising that the origin of the word sarcasm derives from the Greek word “sarkazein” which literally means “to tear or strip the flesh off.” Hence, it’s no wonder that sarcasm is often preceded by the word “cutting” and that it hurts.

What’s more, since actions strongly determine thoughts and feelings, when a person consistently acts sarcastically it may only serve to heighten his or her underlying hostility and insecurity. After all, when you come right down to it, sarcasm can be used as a subtle form of bullying—and most bullies are angry, insecure, or cowardly.

Alternatively, when a person stops voicing negative comments, especially sarcastic and critical ones, he or she may soon start to feel happier and more self-confident. Also, the other people in his or her life benefit even faster because they no longer have to hear the emotionally hurtful language of sarcasm.

Now, I’m not saying all sarcasm is bad. It may just be better used sparingly—like a potent spice in cooking. Too much of the spice, and the dish will be overwhelmed by it. Similarly, an occasional dash of sarcastic wit can spice up a chat and add an element of humor to it. But a big or steady serving of sarcasm will overwhelm the emotional flavor of any conversation and can taste very bitter to its recipient.

So, tone down the sarcasm and work on clever wit instead, which is usually devoid of hostility and thus more appreciated by those you’re communicating with. In essence, sarcasm is easy (as is most anger, criticism, and meanness) while true, harmless wit takes talent.

Thus, the main difference between wit and sarcasm is that, as already stated, sarcasm is often hostility disguised as humor. It can be intended to hurt and is often bitter and caustic. Witty statements are usually in response to someone’s unhelpful remarks or behaviors, and the intent is to unravel and clarify the issue by accentuating its absurdities. Sarcastic statements are expressed in a cutting manner; witty remarks are delivered with undisguised and (usually) harmless humor.

And don't hesitate to tell others that you don't appreciate their sarcastic comments, either.

Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!

Copyright 2012 Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

Dear Reader,

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This post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional assistance or personal mental health treatment by a qualified clinician.

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