The bitter truth beneath sarcasm

(Note: this is a long post. For the lazy ones or those who do not have time enough, it is perfectly safe to go straight to the conslusions and final thoughts in sections #5 and #6.)

Sarcasm is a ‘hate it or love it’ form of expression: generally, people either admire or despise it, but it does not leave many of us indifferent. Now, how even or imbalanced is this thumbs up/thumbs down scoreboard?

On one hand, I have seen out there way more articles praising than disapproving of sarcasm; which given its decidedly negative nature (I’ll go into the definition in a minute) has come as unexpected to me. Is that because, as those able to write articles are generally smarter, therefore more capable of producing sarcasm, they may also be more prone to positively speak of it? Further down I will throw in some conjectures.

On the other hand, how do most other people feel about sarcasm? Statistically, and pretty obviously, the world is not populated by above-average humans, and it’d be safe to say that, sarcasm requiring a higher degree of wit, not all of us are able to either understand or enjoy it, let alone use it. Rather, we are likelier to become its targets or victims. So, based on my intuition and a few opinions from people around me, my guess would be that the nays probably abound much more than the ayes.

1. The definition

Anyhow and first of all — what exactly is sarcasm?

The word comes from ancient Greek sarkasmós, ‘to tear flesh’, which back then became, eventually, a metaphor for ‘speaking bitterly’.

Let me stress it: ‘speaking bitterly’. That’s the etymology. Remember this, for I will go back to it at the end of the post.

After having read the whole variety of definitions modern dictionaries give for sarcasm, I would comprehensibly condense them like this: Harsh, cutting, or bitter derision; sharply ironical taunt, gibe or jeer; a sneering or caustic remark, made mockingly, ironically or in bitter contempt so as to show some foolishness on the part of the listener; a mode of satirical wit using bitter, caustic, and often ironic language intended to convey scorn or insult, or to give pain, usually directed against someone.

Excuse me for the long text in bold italics, but it is absolutely essential for the reader to keep this definition in mind throughout the present pseudo-essay, and stay alert, in order to not fall for the frequent fallacies we are going to be presented with in what lies ahead, which is opinions or ‘findings’ by writers often thrilled by sarcasm.

Thus, given the semantic meaning of the word sarcasm, it is not difficult to identify three core elements in it: bitterness, irony and scorn (or synonyms thereof). And by the way, so as to make sure we do not mistake the part for the whole, it is important to also know the definition of irony, which is very simple: “the humorous or mildly sarcastic use of words to convey or imply the opposite of what they normally mean.”

In this regard, and as per Wordreference, whereas the essential feature of irony is the opposition between the literal and intended meaning of a statement –one thing is said and its contrary implied–, in sarcasm however ridicule or mockery is used harshly, often crudely and contemptuously, for destructive purposes. Therefore, the fundamental difference between those two lies in the intention: sarcasm is generally meant to hurt, whereas irony is not. Please try to remember this one too.

2. Celebrating sarcasm

Several of the many articles out there about sarcastic language begin by ironing out its true nature. For instance, one says it is a form of humour, albeit dictionaries do not mention the word ‘humour’ in any definition of sarcasm that I’ve found. Sure, those who use it may often try to be humorous, but this tells more about them than about sarcasm itself. Maybe it would be closer to the truth to deem it as ‘a form of insult’ instead.

Another one, a lengthy, comprehensive –yet often contradictory– article by Sanju Pradeepa, found in Believe in Mind and titled ‘Is sarcasm a sign of intelligence?, offers us a friendly face of it when describing it as a form of verbal irony where the speaker says the opposite of what he means, often to humorous or emphatic effect; which might seem more accurate than ‘a form of humour’ if it weren’t because Sanju’s description is simply a poor and tautological definition of irony itself . To her credit, though, later on she explains that the sarcastic speaker uses a sharp, cutting tone to convey contempt or disapproval.

In a highly enthusiastic article on Medium titled ‘Why being sarcastic is a sign of intelligence?‘ Dr. Maheen Khaliq opines that sarcasm remains a misunderstood art, often misinterpreted as cruelty or insensitivity. No less than an art, mind you, but misinterpreted as cruelty by the populace, who, you see, tend to mistake for cruelty what is only cruel by definition, not by Dr. Khaliq’s authorized opinion. Probably Lucifer also opines that evil remains yet another misunderstood art.

Besides these misrepresentations, there is no shortage of appreciative stances about sarcasm online.

According to a questionable post in Curious Minds Magazine titled ‘10 reasons why sarcastic people are smarter‘, some Dr. Shamay Tosoory had reportedly conducted a study in which was proved that one’s ability to use sarcasm is linked to the understanding of people’s mind and feelings.

The website Learning Mind (I wonder, by the way, is the word mind in the above websites’ names a clue to something?) has also an entry called ‘3 reasons sarcastic people are more intelligent, backed by science‘, and focused on ‘typical British sarcasm’, in which a study is mentioned allegedly proving that people who engage in sarcastic conversations perform up to three times better on creative tasks: Sarcasm encourages us to use abstract thinking in order to decode the hidden meaning behind the words, which helps us make creative connections within our minds.

Even more passionately, a blog called Your Tango sets forth similar ideas on a post titled along the very same lines: Why sarcastic people are smarter, according to science‘. Its writer is thrilled by the scientifically proven virtues of sarcasm: according to the results of a study […], being able to understand sarcasm and use it like a pro is actually a sign that you are super-intelligent and highly creative. Super-intelligent! Tell me you wouldn’t like that. It is now sufficiently clear that we can go around dishing out our bitter derision meant to hurt (as per the definition of sarcasm) and feel proud about it. What a deal.

Yet another article can be found on Lifehack, by Brianna Johnson, whose headline says it all: ‘Researchers find 3 reasons sarcastic people are more intelligent‘. At this point, I figured the picture was clear: most online sources extol sarcasm.

For such euogies, all authors of the above webpages resort invariably to pretty much the same ‘reasons’, which are all (remember!) backed by science. This is primordial, for science gives the necessary quality stamp for anything to be reputed as truth, like when science proved lockdowns, face masks and jabs helped check the spread and lethality of covid-19, for instance. Thus, the said reasons have reportedly been taken from scientific research. Of course I am in no way denying such studies exist: simply, I have not taken the trouble of checking them (and no need to: I blindly believe anyone invoking science). Quite another thing is how their results and conclusions have been interpreted by Brianna, Shamay, Khaliq, Sanju, etc.; supposing the did read them, that is.

Anyway, allow me to summarize the arguments typically set forth –with little differences or variations– to applaud sarcasm. They can be grouped in two main categories:

  • Connection with cognitive abilities
  • Interpersonal benefits/skills

A. Cognitive capabilities implied and/or enhanced by sarcasm

  • Verbal intelligence. Understanding and expressing sarcasm requires a quick wit and the ability to make clever comebacks on the spot. This involves manipulating language in creative ways, therefore needs a strong grasp of semantics, syntax, and verbal reasoning, e.g. playing with ambiguous or subtle meanings, understanding implied ideas, making quick associations, twisting conventional phrases, etc.
  • Quick-wittedness and cognitive function. Clever sarcastic retorts are often made on the spot in response to someone else. The ability to make fast connections, process information rapidly, and generate a smart comeback requires intellectual quickness and mental agility.

I believe there can be no doubt about these two.

  • Abstract thinking. Some research shows that people who score higher on abstract reasoning and conceptualization also tend to be better at interpreting sarcasm.

This correlation also seems plausible to me.

  • Recognizing and using sarcasm well is a strong sign of social and emotional intelligence.

Really? “Emotional”, of all kinds of intelligence?

  • Mental complexity and mind expansion. Sarcastic people think on another level [sic]. The wit involved in coming up with an unexpected sarcastic quip that will be cryptic yet understood requires a fast, nimble and sophisticated mind and an extra layer of thinking. The mental processes needed for such humor are quite complex, and broadly associated with general intelligence. So both giving and receiving sarcasm allows the mind to expand, opening parts of it that we may not use in sincere conversation; sharpens our brain, as it needs to work harder; and improves our problem-solving skills.

If you are still not convinced of how beneficial sarcasm is for you, please keep reading.

  • Creativity enhancement. This mental workout can enhance our ability to think creatively: we are pushed to think outside of the box, be quick-witted and resourceful, and exercise our creativity. This offers a refreshing change of place. It’s a way to let our minds roam freely, indulging in the playful and creative aspects of humor. Researchers have found that those producing or subject to sarcastic comments were able to perform up to three times better on creativity tests. Also, 75% of those exposed to sarcastic content figured out a tricky creative task, compared to just 25% of those exposed to sincere content.

Well, if research says so, who am I to contradict science? In any case, I hope you’ve taken good note of the “outside of the box, roam freely, indulging in playfulness”, etc. If by now you have not become a staunch adherent of sarcasm, there is no hope for you.

  • Improved IQ. The real truth is that being sarcastic actually makes you smarter [sic]. New research shows that sarcastic people tend to have higher IQs and more creative thinking skills.

This is the ultimate panacea. Plus it is the real truth. No need for any stronger argument. This is why you shoud constantly train your sarcasm if you want to score higher in IQ tests.

All of the above sounds great, and I bet there is a good deal of truth in some of it. But the hype..! Plus let us try not to lose focus: first, actually most of those points can likewise be applied to irony, which is sarcasm but without the bitterness and contempt; second, some of them convey the causation all upside down. Genius is a natural trait, totally unaffected by the way we express ourselves. Sarcasm may be a sign of intelligence, but not the cause of it. It alone will not make you any bit smarter. Why are these street vendors trying to sell us the scornful and destructive variant of irony which is sarcasm, instead of the friendly and positive one, the plain good old irony?

B. Interpersonal benefits and/or skills

Sarcasm –the argument goes– does not always manifest as a simple, rude comment: it can instead serve many beneficial purposes.

  • Offers a refreshingly simple tool to build relationships, bring people closer together, foster camaraderie and create strong bonds between friends or family. Has a way of creating a shared experience that only a select group of people can understand. Allows us to better choose our friends, let our guard down and be our authentic selves, unafraid to express our opinions. While some folks regard sarcasm as caustic and unfriendly, the latest research has shown that, among friends, it does not create a vibe of contempt, as one might expect. In fact, it can even reinforce sincerity, as both parties interact honestly with each other.

Finally I understand why I have so few friends and so badly chosen, with whom I do not interact honestly; why my family bonds are so weak; why I am not my authentic self, and why I am so afraid to express my opinions: because I am not sarcastic. What I do not get, though, is how Some Folks© can regard as caustic, contemptuous and unfriendly a form of expression such as sarcasm, which is by definition a caustic, contemptuous and unfriendly form of expression. Some Folks© has to be a weird guy.

  • When wielded judiciously it can be an indicator of advanced communication abilities and interpersonal skills. The smartest and wittiest people know how to use it effectively without causing unintended offense. They have a strong sense of timing, context, and empathy for their listeners. Using sarcasm skillfully could be a sign you have the cleverness and social savvy to navigate subtle, unspoken interactions.

In other words, only the smartest and wittiest, with their social savvy, strong sense of context and empathy (empathy!) for others, know how to use sarcasm in such a way that it does not cause offense and therefore can hardly be called sarcasm any more.

  • Allows for a playful approach to social commentary, offering a non-threatening way to criticize the world, express discontent, call attention to political issues, highlight injustices, flaws and shortcomings of their society, challenge the status quo, encourage progress and spark change. Sarcasm is an evolutionary crucial survival skill, a part of nowadays people’s behavior and personality.

This falls short of saying that social progress has mostly been possible thanks to sarcasm. As to its evolutionary role, probably no more than one out of ten persons is sarcastic; maybe a lot less. Evidence of this survival skill’s evolutionary cruciality would be, for instance, to see that not sarcastic people are becoming extinct, or biologists considering changing the name of the species to homo sarkasticus.

  • Handling emotions and conflicting situations, like lightening the mood in a tense room or revealing an honest sentiment that others were afraid to say out loud. Those who understand sarcasm will know it is a way of humor, truly the best kind of humour.

Quite justly so. Most of use crack up every time a caustic, mocking, bitter remark is thrown at us.

  • Understanding and creating sarcasm also requires a well-developed theory of mind (the ability to attribute mental states to others and understand that people can have different perspectives). Sarcastics are skilled at recognizing what others may be thinking in order to cleverly subvert those thoughts.

I would like to learn whatever Theory of Mind means, so I can also enjoy cleverly subverting others’ thoughts.

  • There’s no denying the universal appeal of sarcasm, that has been making humans laugh for centuries, resonating with people of all ages and backgrounds. In a world where differences can often divide us, sarcasm is a universal language that unites us all.

One ring to rule them all. Remember sex-appeal? This is a lot better: sarcs-appeal, the universal one. And it has been there for literally centuries, making us roll on the floor with laughter and uniting peoples all over the planet, as history and ancient texts show: Jainist, Sanskrit, Greek, Persian, Indostani, Tuareg, Amerindian, Aboriginal, Eskimo books and scriptures are full of merry sarcasm. This is also thanks to what all societies and civilizations are so cohesive and closely drawn together.

  • Can provide a powerful barrier in the face of negative comments or criticism, a defense mechanism protecting oneself from the hurtful or negative emotions that come with being judged, and helping us to build resilience.

For instance, protecting oneself from the hurtful or negative emotions arisen by harsh derision intended to insult us. I.e., a defense mechanism against others’ sarcasm thrown at us. Sure, why not. Like in everybody carrying a gun so we can protect ourselves from others’ guns.

  • A tool for building self-esteem and confidence. By putting a humorous spin on negative situations, we can diffuse the tension and shift the focus away from our own insecurities.

Because, of course, the best way of putting a humorous spin on negative situations is to harshly, crudely or contemptuously use ridicule or mockery for destructive purposes.

  • Sarcastic people rule the world.

Verbatim. No explanation needed for this self-evident truth, it seems.

What else can I add? At this point only one idea comes to mind: besides attacking others, what can we achieve with harmful sarcasm that we cannot achieve with harmless irony? Sure, there are two things. I will share them with you at the end of this post.

3. But then — not so great?

You wouldn’t believe it, but despite the hype, two or three of the aforelisted articles try to convey a somewhat balanced take on sarcasm, toning down a bit their stated associations with intellgence or social skills and mentioning some of its downsides and limitations — albeit in sort of an unpersuaded way, as if just to make up for their enthusiastic applause (thus satisfying all sorts of readers) or, worse yet, as if they actually didn’t know a word about what they were talking: funny enough, several of the shortcomings of sarcasm head-on contradict what the very same articles state.

Let us see what qualifiers they use for the celebrations listed so far.

  • Although popular opinion perceives sarcastic people as quick-witted or clever, the research on this is mixed. Not all studies have found a direct link between cognitive skills and the ability to produce or comprehend sarcasm: some relate it with verbal fluency, others find little to no connection with intelligence. Though smart people may have more potential for masterful sarcasm, there is more to it than just raw brainpower. In any case, sarcasm itself is not always the best measure or indicator of how smart someone really is. Constantly mocking or belittling others is not a sign of intelligence but rather a lack of emotional and social intelligence.

On the one hand, I wonder what the ‘not always‘ in that sentence is supposed to mean. Does it mean almost always? Then, ought psychologists to forget about IQ tests and just measure sarcasm instead, almost always getting more reliable results?

On the other hand, that “little to no connection with intelligence” straightforwardly contradicts everything expounded in part #1 of this post. Something must be really, really flawed or biased in the reported ‘research’ or in the way the above authors portray the ‘scientifical’ findings. I wonder what kind of ‘studies’ they are reading when they come up with such incoherencies. Or, are they reading any at all?

  • Regardless of its connection with intelligence, sarcasm is actually a learned skill that depends a lot on one’s environment and upbringing. It involves understanding subtle social cues, empathising with the speaker and navigating relationships. The listener has to understand the speaker’s intent and any shared context to get the quip. Moreover, not all clever people are inclined towards sarcasm; in fact, many of them are not, since it can be hurtful or confusing; besides, it often reflects more the speaker’s emotional state than his wit. Therefore, it is not always the most constructive way to demonstrate your mental capacities.

Once again this ambiguous ‘not always’.

You see, not all clever people are ready to exploit the full potential of such great form of expression because it can be hurtful. Not that it necessarily is, of course, but can be. Except that by definition it usually is. Mark how even when trying to nuance the wonders of sarcasm they keep mistaking it with irony. Anyhow, two things are true, I believe: sarcasm is a learned skill and it often reflects more the speaker’s emotions than his wit.

  • Research shows that personality traits like cynicism, hostility and belligerence also play a role. Frequent use of sarcasm is related to verbal aggressiveness. One study discovered that 56 percent of the participants from northern countries thought that sarcasm is funny, versus only 35 percent of participants coming from southern countries. There may be some truth in the stereotype that southern people are more sincere.

I find this an extremely telling piece of information, suggestive of two quite interesting ideas.

First, even in those ‘northern’ countries (which I, not having read the study, assume to more or less represent the Protestant/Anglo-Saxon world), only little above half the participants found sarcasm to be funny, whereas the results go down to little above one third among participants from ‘southern’ countries. So, it would seem accurate to say that, in general, the majority of people do not find sarcasm funny — which is a total surprise, given that, as we have been told, sarcasm is truly the best kind of humour.

Second, by extrapolating those results one should expect to find 60% more people enjoying or approving of sarcasm in northern countries than in southern ones. And given the association between sarcasm and personality traits like cynicism, hostility and belligerence, I cannot help drawing some hardly flattering conclusions regarding Protestants in general, unless I am very wrong in identifying ‘northern countries’ with Protestantism.

But I do not think I am. Actually, in support of that, the author of the blog entry in Learning Mind focused on ‘typical British sarcasm’ graciously concedes that ‘sarcasm isn’t a form of humour that everybody understands and is comfortable with. If a person is from a different culture that doesn’t appreciate it as openly as the British or simply doesn’t understand your sarcasm, it can make that person feel uncomfortable‘. You see, beings from a non-British culture, with a poor sense of humour, might not crack up –as they should– when receiving the bitterness and scorn usually present in sarcasm.

  • It often doesn’t translate well in written communication. Without tone of voice and facial expressions to provide context, sarcastic comments can easily be misinterpreted as sincere.
  • Although it can be a way to express annoyance or get your point across, the sarcastic approach is not always constructive and should only be used occasionally. There is a fine line between good-natured irony and dismissive flippancy. Constant ironic and cutting remarks get tiresome quickly, make you seem cynical, distrustful and contemptuous, and make others feel like targets of mockery. Over time, it can damage relationships, credibility and likability. In sum, excessive sarcasm loses its cleverness and comes across as obnoxious, rude or meanspirited.

Here, once again we bump into uncompromising modifiers: sarcasm would be meanspirited only when in excess; it is not always (i.e. almost never) destructive; it makes the speaker seem contemptuous (implying he’s really not); it makes others feel like targets of mockery (implying they’re too sensitive or wary), etc. Besides, all such statements deny once and again the semantic meaning of sarcasm, according to which it is contemptuous or scornful, it is usually destructive and targeted against someone.

4. Why the whitewashing?

For some reason, all the laudatory articles above misdefine sarcasm. More often than not, what they actually mean is irony. Many of their eulogies, the positives sides they see in sarcastic language, and even the shortcomings they admit, refer in reality to irony; and can only be linked to sarcasm insomuch as the one often involves the other; except that between them there is a key difference I have hopefully sufficiently stressed: sarcasm is a cruel and bitter form of irony. Nothing to be too supportive of, one would say.

Such insistence, on the part of many authors, in celebrating sarcasm against its very definition, and promoting it as just a harmless, impish variation of merry and wellmeant irony begs the question why. Of course I do not know the answer and can only conjecture. Here are the three possibilities I have come up with off the top of my head:

  • They have never checked the term in a dictionary and, genuinely ignoring what it means, mistake it for playful irony.
  • Subconsciously and irresistibly influenced by the link between sarcasm and above-average IQ, they sense their disapproval would be tantamount to disapproving intelligence.
  • They are themselves sarcastic persons simply trying to exorcize any possible guilt feeling.

5. The bitter truth

But then, what does really lurk beneath sarcasm?

When searching for documentation online I came across just one article, by some Tom Jerry, pointing a finger at the reality beneath that form of expression, not paying undue homage to it nor divorcing from its definition:

Most of the time —Tom Jerry writes— sarcasm used in daily speech is the sign of something lurking underneath, deep inside the person who uses it: bitterness.

I can’t agree more. Indeed, to me sarcasm is a cover for bitterness. I had intuitively come to this conclusion time before I begun searching around or even grabbed a dictionary for checking the meaning of the term. My recent readings and analysis have only proved my gut feeling to be true. For if we scroll up to the long list of words different dictionaries use for defining the term (harsh, cutting, bitter, derision, sharp, irony, taunt, gibe, jeer, sneer, mock, contempt, scorn, insult, pain, destructive, ridicule, disapproval), there is only one among them especially belonging to sarcasm: the adjective bitter. This is perhaps the feature that best characterizes sarcasm, most of all considering how etymology supports this idea: remember the metaphor the word sarkasmós turned into in ancient Greece: ‘speaking bitterly’.

Now eulogists can embellish such way of expression with all the frills and flowery they want, calling sarcasm the best ever kind of humour, a creativity enhancer, relationship builder, defense mechanism, universal language or crucially critical evolutionary skill; they can link it to high IQ and abstract thinking (which is generally true); but none of that can alter its intrinsically bitter nature; and maybe we should not let ourselves be fooled by such festooned wrap concealing the truth deep inside it.

Coming back to Tom Jerry’s article, and even though I do not share his religious approach in the least (all his assertions come presumedly corroborated by clearly unrelated and totally vague passages of the Bible), I find his ensuing statements fully in accordance with my own thoughts and, most importantly, with the real definition of sarcasm. Tom says:

  • It robs us of joy,
  • is focused on the self and is selfish,
  • counters compassion and is opposite to forgiveness,
  • causes ill feelings and damages relationships,
  • usually expresses disapproval in a way that insults or breaks down another person and
  • has no regard for the suffering of others and makes us cold to them.

These points make a startling yet refreshing contrast, even antithetic, with all the previous panegyrics: instead of being funny, sarcasm robs us joy; instead of on sharing, it focuses on the self; rather than building or reinforcing relationships, it damages them. What a discrepancy, no? And yet, when I stop and think of it, I can’t but realize that, most of the time, sarcasm does indeed turn out to be selfish, unforgiving, annoying…

But enough of quoting and commenting on other’s opinions. It is about time to write

6. My own ideas

I do not know why sarcasm so often comes to my thought. Maybe it is because some persons whose opinions and wit I most respect are very fond of it. And perhaps it is not a coincidence that, along my life, I have lost two or three good friends who, as it just so happens, are very satirical. Did this trait have something to do with the loss of affection? I suspect it did.

Also, outside my circle of acquaintances, a few of the reporters I more closely follow –for they are bright and knowledgeable– tend to frequently express themselves in very sardonic terms; which I end up finding quite annoying. As some of the articles previously analysed accurately say, constant sarcasm gets tiresome quickly and make one feel the target of scorn, even if it is not directly addressed to the listener — and regardless of one’s intellectual self-assurance. Personally, in general I appreciate plain ironical jeer, and insult only rarely scrapes my confidence; I can bear a reasonable amount of shaply critical and derisive talk, even verbal abuse, directed to me as part of the audience. And yet, why only sarcasm ends up bothering me? What particular characteristic does it have that makes it notably annoying?

After some thinking and analising both the essential elements of sarcasm and the emotions it arises within my deep self, I believe I eventually happened to identify the culprit: acrimony, bitterness. I believe this is the very aspect of sarcasm that differentiates it from other akin forms of expression.

A sourness transmitter

Not that I condemn acrimonious people. On the contrary, I have a lot of compassion for them, perhaps because unfortunately there is some sourness within my soul, too. But, who knows, maybe this is precisely why I am better able than others to spot bitterness and undestand its destructive power: it is a very contagious sentiment, easily impartible, with a potential to infect even the healthiest minds.

And as turns out, sarcasm is but a sourness transmitter. One that does not even liberate of such feeling those who spread it.

For, ultimately, what is the invisible and often subconscious goal of sarcastic people? There are one hundred kinds of taunt or gibe, one hundred ways of showing contempt, of conveying ridicule or insult, one hundred forms of criticising society or others. But sarcasm alone is so insidious, for behind a pretendedly humorous cover it stealthily, furtively delivers its poisonous acrimony, infecting the receiver unawares, escaping the emitter also unawares.

Acrimony is what makes sarcasm sterile and selfish, unforgiving and destructive. Its effect incapacitates others to no good. By chosing sarcasm over other alternative, even similar ways of expression, what the individual tries to do –most probably without even realizing it– is to communicate his stinging feelings to others so as to make them as miserable. Because I see sarcastic persons not only as generally bitter: often I find them also envious, even rancorous. As if, not enjoying being the only sour folks in the classroom, in order to ease their discomfort –and instinctively relying on the petty solace of a shared pain– they needed everyone else to feel the same.

All of this is not to say we should avoid sarcasm at all costs, nor to imply sarcastics are all a bunch of despondent sourpuss. But I believe that, while a good humoured satirical quip among friends or family may come as funny and refreshing, it should only –as some of the above mentioned authors write– be used occasionally: excessive sarcasm comes across as obnoxious or meanspirited.

IQ strutting and pedagogic inadequacy

Moderating their sarcasm should, I think, be specially important for those with a public voice: popular bloggers and podcasters, reporters, analysts, ‘influencers’ of al kinds, etc. Sure, I agree that sarcasm may be a ‘playful’ approach to social commentary, a good way to express criticism, highlight injustices or political issues, but I seriously doubt it to be, when used constantly, the best road to ‘encouraging progress and spark change’. In my news radar there are a couple individuals or three who, basically, speak only in sarcastic language (quite typical of cynics, by the way); but I do not think it pays off: the negative effects probably outweigh the positive.

Besides transfering bitterness, there lies, I believe, a second utility underneath sarcasm. Regardless of whichever studies allegedly show ‘little to no connection with intelligence’, I think there is no denying good quality sarcasm requires good cognitive abilities: verbal skills, quick-wittedness, abstract thinking, etc. (emotional/ social intelligence being quite a differnt thing though). And I have a strong suspicion that obsessively sarcastic folks are more interested in displaying around their wit than in conveying their ideas, let alone convincing people or sparking social change.

An excess of derisive remarks and sour cynicism is anything but educational or edifying, I am afraid. While newcomers to any given sarcastic broadcast may at first find the style original and stimulating, in time they will begin resenting the transmitted bitterness, feeling uneasy, then getting bored and eventually disliking or distrusting such communicators. Too much vitriol and gall pushes the general public away, and without public there is no shaping nor enlightening any society.

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