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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sarcasm is the rhetorical device of using a characterization of something or someone in order to express contempt.[1] It is closely connected with irony, in that the two are often combined in the same statement.


Origin of the term

It is first recorded in English in The Shepheardes Calender in 1579:

Tom piper) An Ironical [Sarcasmus], spoken in derision of these rude wits, which make more account of a rhyming Rimbaud, then of skill grounded upon learning and judgment.

It comes from the ancient Greek σαρκάζω (sarkazo) meaning 'to tear flesh' but the ancient Greek word for the rhetorical concept of taunting was instead χλευασμός (chleyasmόs). Sarcasm appears several times in the Old Testament, for example:

Lo, you see the man is mad; why then have you brought him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence?
—Achish, king of Gath, I Sam 21:10-15[2]


Hostile, critical comments may be expressed in an ironic way such as saying "don't work too hard" to a lazy worker. The use of irony introduces an element of humour which may make the criticism seem more polite and less aggressive, but understanding the subtlety of this usage requires second-order interpretation of the speaker's intentions. This sophisticated understanding is lacking in some people with brain damage, dementia and autism,[3] and this perception has been located by MRI in the right parahippocampal gyrus.[4][5]

Sarcasm mark

In certain Ethiopic languages, sarcasm and unreal phrases are indicated at the end of a sentence with a sarcasm mark called temherte slaq, a character that looks like the inverted exclamation point ¡.[6] This usage is similar to Alcanter de Brahm's proposed irony mark ؟, a reversed question mark. Subtitles, such as in Teletext, sometimes use an exclamation mark in brackets to mark sarcasm: [!].

It is common in online conversation to use a pseudo-HTML element: <sarcasm>Yeah, that's really going to work.</sarcasm>[7]. Many times, the opening tag is omitted, due to the HTML tagging often being an afterthought. Similarly, and common in social-news-based sites is a single /s placed at the end of a comment to indicate a sarcastic tone for the preceding text. A "rolling eyes" emoticon is often used as well, particularly in instant messaging.

Karl Marx uses the exclamation mark in brackets repeatedly throughout Das Kapital Volume 1. For example, in one instance, to ridicule Colonel Torrens: 'The problem is in no way simplified if extraneous matters are smuggled in, as with Colonel Torrens: "effectual demand consists in the power and inclination [!], on the part of the consumers, to give for commodities, either by immediate or circuitous barter..."'.[8]

In 2010, Sarcasm Inc. of Michigan proposed a punctuation mark with similar intent to the irony mark. The company sells software for consumers to use the SarcMark on personal computers and portable devices.[9] A month after the introduction of the SarcMark, a group called Open Sarcasm published a manifesto demanding a return to the Temherte Slaq as an open-source alternative to the SarcMark.[10]

Vocal indication

In English, sarcasm is indicated from sincere speech by lowering fundamental frequency and speaking with a slower speech rate. In Cantonese, however, sarcasm is indicated by raising the fundamental frequency of one's voice.[11]


  1. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 2008,, "A sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter gibe or taunt." 
  2. ^ Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman, Colin Duriez, Douglas Penney, Daniel G. Reid,= (1998), Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, pp. 409, ISBN 9780830814510, 
  3. ^ S. G. Shamay-Tsoory, R. Tomer, J. Aharon-Peretz (2005), "The Neuroanatomical Basis of Understanding Sarcasm and Its Relationship to Social Cognition", Neuropsychology: 288–300, doi:10.1037/0894-4105.19.3.288, 
  4. ^ Dan Hurley (June 3, 2008), The Science of Sarcasm (Not That You Care), New York Times, 
  5. ^ J.W.Slap (1966), "On Sarcasm", The Psychoanalytic Quarterly 35: 98–107, 
  6. ^ "A Roadmap to the Extension of the Ethiopic Writing System Standard Under Unicode and ISO-10646". 15th International Unicode Conference. 1999. p. 6. 
  7. ^ "HTML 5 Specification section The "in body" insertion mode". W3C. 
  8. ^ Marx, Karl (1976). Capital Volume I. Penguin Classics. p. 264. ISBN 0-140-44568-4. 
  9. ^ Thomaidis, Irene. SarcMark is a really, really, really a good idea. No really. Toronto Sun. 16 Jan. 2010.
  10. ^ "Open Sarcasm Manifesto". 2010. 
  11. ^ Cheang HS, Pell MD. (2009). Acoustic markers of sarcasm in Cantonese and English. J Acoust Soc Am. 126(3):1394-405. PMID 19739753

See also

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Sarcasm (from the Greek σαρκασμός (sarkasmos), mockery, sarcasm) is a form of bitter or cutting irony.


  • Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the Devil; for which reason I have, long since, as good as renounced it.
  • Sarcasm: the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.
  • Sarcasm and compassion are two of the qualities that make life on earth tolerable.
  • Sarcasm is not the rapier of wit its wielders seem to believe it to be, but merely a club: it may, by dint of brute force, occasionally raise bruises, but it never cuts or pierces.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:
Look up sarcasm in Wiktionary, the free dictionary

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SARCASM, an ironical or sneering remark or taunt, a biting or satirical expression. The word comes through the Latin from the Greek aaprc6. av, literally to tear flesh (crag) like a dog; hence, figuratively, to bite the lips in rage, to speak bitterly (cf. Stobaeus, Eclog. ii. 222). The etymology of this may be paralleled by the English "sneer," from Dan. snarre, to grin like a dog, cognate with "snarl," to make a rattling r sound in the throat, Ger. schnarren, and possibly also by "sardonic." This latter word appears in Greek in the form vapSavtos, always in the sense of bitter or scornful laughter, in such phrases as vapSavcov 'EXav, 'yEXcos aaptavcos and the like. It is probably connected with vaipav, to draw back, i.e. the lips, like a dog, but was usually explained (by the early scholiasts and commentators) as referring to a Sardinian plant (Ranunculus Sardous), whose bitter taste screwed up the mouth. Thus, later Greek writers wrote IapSovcov, and it was adopted into Latin; cf. Servius on Virg. Eel. vii. 41 "immo ego Sardois videar tibi amarior herbis."

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Simple English

Sarcasm is when someone says something, but means something else. They mean either the opposite of what they said, or that they disagree with what they just said.

Sarcasm is different from lying because when a person is being sarcastic, the person listening is supposed to understand that the person speaking does not mean what they just said. If someone says something sarcastic, it is usually said in a tone of voice that tells the person listening that they are being sarcastic. Perhaps the person listening knows the person talking well enough to understand that the person talking is being sarcastic.

Sarcasm can be used to criticize someone. It can be unkind.

Sarcasm can also be used to be funny. If the person's tone of voice is normal when they say something sarcastic, this is called "deadpan" or "dry humor".


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