Why Sarcasm Isn’t So Bad Afterall

sarcasm house MD definition

It’s no secret that I am fluent in sarcasm.  

I also happen to LOVE House, Hugh Laurie played the sh*t out of that character. But I digress..

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Aside profanity, sarcasm is my default language.

Sadly, it’s a widespread belief, I presume by those who aren’t fluent speakers, that sarcasm can be poisonous, hurtful, and harmful to others  negatively impact one’s relationships.  

To which, if you agree with that statement, I bid you adieu because:


However, recently its been discovered that sarcasm isn’t given enough credit and can actually have positive effects.  Sarcasm has been found to increase creativity.  

Here’s a clip of the article from Scientific American:

The use of sarcasm, in fact, promotes creativity for those on both the giving and receiving end of sarcastic exchanges. Instead of avoiding sarcasm completely in the office, the research suggests sarcasm, used with care and in moderation, can be effectively used and trigger some creative sparks.

Sarcasm involves constructing or exposing contradictions between intended meanings. The most common form of verbal irony, sarcasm is often used to humorously convey thinly veiled disapproval or scorn. “Pat, don’t work so hard!”, a boss might say upon catching his assistant surfing the Internet. Early research on sarcasm explored how people interpret statements and found that, as expected, sarcasm makes a statement sound more critical. In one laboratory study, participants read scenarios in which, for instance, (1) one person did something that could be viewed negatively, such as smoking, and (2) a second person commented on the behavior to the first person, either literally (“I see you don’t have a healthy concern for your lungs”) or sarcastically (“I see you have a healthy concern for your lungs”). Participants rated sarcasm to be more condemning than literal statements. In a similar study, participants were encouraged to empathize either with a person behaving in a way that could be construed as negative or with a second person commenting on the first person’s behavior. Both perspectives prompted participants to rate sarcastic comments by the second person as more impolite relative to literal comments.

Sarcasm promotes creativity for those giving and receiving since it involves constructing or exposing contradictions between intended meanings. The most common form is verbal irony, which is commonly used for humorously conveying disapproval.

We must be mindful that this form of linguistic expression can be easily misinterpreted, particularly if communicated electronically. Senders of these electronic remarks have been found to be overconfident that the notion that the recipient will correctly interpret their message.

The creativity boost pattern emerged in both the commenter and recipient only when the recipient picked up on the sarcasm.

They theorize this boost occurs because the brain must think creatively in order to understand or convey a sarcastic comment.  Tone must overcome the contradiction between literal and actual meanings of sarcastic expressions.  

Which is why poor Sheldon experiences great difficulty catching on…

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This process activates and is facilitated by abstraction in turn promoting creative thinking. Abstraction is a process that considers things independently from associations and attributes.

And while it can be interpreted negatively it boils down to trust. As the authors stated, “sarcasm expressed toward or received from someone we trust is less conflict provoking than sarcasm expressed toward or received from someone we distrust.”  

My partner and I are always sarcastic with one another but we trust each other so we never take it personally or offensively, which is why we are a great team: we each appreciate the others clever wit, and that’s a beautiful thing.

The researchers are definitely on to something, I have to say that being sarcastic takes great effort and a certain je ne sais quoi.  It’s not always easy finding clever ways to come back at someone for either saying something really stupid and/or outlandish.  

sarcasm defense against stupid meme

So while it is a difficult language to master, for those of us who are fluent we must understand that not everyone is and we must use sarcasm gracefully.  With great power comes great responsibility, and sarcasm is no exception.  Even if we may be helping others increase their creatively, they just may not understand and isn’t that punishment enough?


Dear Readers — FYI:  I’m going to be hitting a busy period over the next few weeks so my comments will be turned off during this time.  Instead, please share this article and/or email me your thoughts — It will be greatly appreciated!
Thanks for reading!

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