“Sarcasm: A Dangerous Game,” by Elizabeth Bernstein. The Wall Street Journal, 8/25/2015.
An American waked into a Parisian eyeglass shop and found less than ten frames for sale. When the clerk approached, he said, “Don’t mind me. I’m sure I’ll find something in the next 30 seconds.” The rest of the encounter did not go well. Like many of us, he could not resist sarcasm. It is a force as strong as a craving for more potato chips. Targets of sarcasm rarely think it is funny.
Even a casual reader of this blog will notice sarcasm is my bad habit, too. As Oscar Wilde famously said, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.” Less well known is the rest of the quote, “but the highest form of intelligence.” We who succumb to sarcasm only focus on the second part, however untrue. Closer to the truth would be, “. . . but the highest form of arrogance.” Programming a computer to respond to a question with sarcasm is notoriously difficult and, so far, unattainable.
The WSJ article presents a positive side of which I was not aware and not sure I believe. Sarcasm can increase intimacy with a friend, says professor of psychology Roger Kreuz. “You only say the opposite of what you really mean if you know the person is going to understand you.” By using sarcasm, “You are saying, ‘I trust you. I am bringing you into the club.'”
Sure you are. (Did you notice my compliment right there?)
I expect sarcasm would only be appreciated by a friend if it was directed elsewhere. Otherwise, they would more likely feel you are mocking them with your ridiculous comment, as with the Parisian clerk example.
Sarcasm protects you from retaliation: “Hey, I was only kidding!” you can always claim. “Can’t you take a joke? Get me some ice for my nosebleed.”
Recent studies suggest people who are able to understand sarcasm are more creative and better problem-solvers. But keep in mind they may use that creativity and problem-solving to find a new friend.
When you are on the target of sarcasm, leave open the possibility that they may be expressing affection, trusting and complementing you, but I suggest you find someone else to hang out with. Sarcasm is not a good sign of respect, no matter what a professor of psychology may say.
If all this is over your head, feel free to email me for a further explanation. My spam folder has plenty of room. (Sorry, there I go again. Pass the potato chips.)