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A Definition of Sarcasm


After I made a particularly fine joke one day, a friend said to me: “You know, sarcasm is the lowest form of sociopathy.” I laughed at this. Later, I looked up the word sociopath. The definition wasn’t as funny as my joke had been.

The Scientific Definition

From the Oxford English Dictionary (the only dictionary worth consulting)

Originally: a condition of mental deficiency leading to criminal or antisocial behaviour (cf. SOCIOPATH n.) (disused). In later use: = antisocial personality disorder n. at ANTISOCIAL adj. Additions (cf. PSYCHOPATHY n. 1) (now rare). More generally (also hyperbolically): antisocial, violent, or selfish behaviour.

A Definition of Sociopathy for Generation Entertainment

  • Dexter is a sociopath.
  • Bugs Bunny is a sociopath.
  • No! Dont turn your back on him...

    No! Don't turn your back on him...

  • Robert De Niro in Cape Fear is a sociopath.
  • They are all skillful liars. All are impulsive and detached from their peers. They have great capacity for violence. They are incapable of guilt or remorse. They are masters of changing their image and pretending to be someone they are not.

    That last point does the most to validate my friend’s claim. A sarcastic remark pretends to be a sincere remark. The meaning of the words is swallowed up in the tone of the delivery. I suppose you could call sarcasm a mild form of deceit, even when the joker and the receiver are both in on the joke.

    If being genuine is important to you, monitor yourself today and see how often you make sarcastic remarks. When I did this, the results were pretty discouraging. Practically every other word out of my mouth was sarcastic. I’m not convinced that I’m a sociopath–I’ve seen too many movies and I know my sociopaths.

    I’m no Puritan, but I believe that self-mastery is rarely a bad thing. Regardless of whether your peers enjoy sarcasm, it is a negative thing. If you’re trying to be more upbeat, this may be a good place to start.

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    Try it out and let us know if anything surprises you. Report whatever you’re comfortable sharing in the comments section. Good luck!

    Comments on this entry are closed.

    • Travis April 21, 2009, 8:22 am

      I appreciate your discussion of sarcasm (aka: smartasm). I have always been sarcastic, too. I recently learned that using sarcasm at the preschool level (I’m a teacher) is considered an easy way to lose the trust of the kids. Obviously, most 5 and 6 year olds aren’t yet privy to sarcasm, so they just hear the words, see the straight face, and believe what I’m saying. Sarcasm is funny to me… But it is definitely a form of passive-aggression… Thank you for writing about it.
      One more thing. I have always been fascinated by scriptures, even though I’m more about spirituality than religion. The phrase “name of the Lord, God in vain.” -reminds me that our words are a way for us to call on god, and that our words are a powerful gift given to us to speak to and through whatever a person considers to be god. So, I think god is more concerned with us using that power in vain (sarcasm) than with us saying “damn” after the word “god”. While that may sound weird, I see it as a point of focus for me that helps me be more reverent with my expressions….

    • Josh Hanagarne April 21, 2009, 9:14 am

      Travis, thanks for the thoughtful response. I’ve learned about kids in my job as well–there’s no BS-ing them. They see right through you and once trust is gone, it’s hard to get back. The power of words for good or bad should never be underestimated.

    • David Cain April 21, 2009, 9:16 am

      I have really toned down the sarcasm in the last while. I may still do it reflexively, I’m not sure. I guess at some point I just stopped finding it appealing when other people were sarcastic.

      Bugs Bunny is a sociopath, it’s true. He manipulates bald, slow-witted, speech-impaired hunters with no remorse.

    • Josh Hanagarne April 21, 2009, 10:10 am

      Yeah. Sucks to be a grown-up, huh? Sarcasm was my default up to about age 23. I still do it all the time, but for too long, it was my only dimension.

      And now I’m thinking about Tom and Jerry…

    • Megan Horton April 22, 2009, 8:49 am

      Sarcasm is my second language. I’m willing to be labeled a sociopath in order to keep it up. Josh I can’t imagine you without sarcasm, so please don’t go all soft on me and change.

    • Josh Hanagarne April 22, 2009, 8:59 am

      Calm down, M. Horton. And you’re wrong, sarcasm is your first language:)

    • Megan Horton April 27, 2009, 8:01 am

      Ok so sarcasm is my first language. I guess I’ll be known forevermore as a sociopath. I can live with that I think.

    • Michelle November 12, 2011, 11:18 pm

      I use sarcasm ….but I don’t intend to hurt…. I like the humor that can be found in most everything. If it’s someone that I know won’t appreciate the humor… Then I avoid the comment. Why are we sociopaths? Why must everything be so serious!