November 30, 2009


Lately I’ve been seeing the effects of sarcasm everywhere.  Whether it’s watching my own family, my friends’ families or the families of my clients, sarcasm still has that same familiar sting.  Sarcasm comes from the Greek word sarkasmos or sarkazein, which means to tear flesh, or to bite the lips in rage. 

The purpose of sarcasm is to mock others.  The better the cut-down, the funnier we think it is.  Sarcasm hurts because it is meant to hurt. 

Sarcasm is often an unspoken truth, judgment or resentment wrapped up as a joke.  We throw out a comment and then follow it up with a smile or a chuckle and think that’s okay.  It’s just a little joke.  Unfortunately, the smile or chuckle does not soften the sting.

Regardless of whether it’s an older brother greeting his little sister with “Hey mighty mouth,” a friend saying “Nice of you to show up on your time frame,” or a cousin chiding another cousin with “You always could eat. couldn’t you,” sarcasm is often a caustic attempt at humor.

Sarcasm has become a way for many people and families to connect.  They learn to constantly rib each other as a way of communicating.  They think when the ribbing hurts, it must be because the target is too sensitive.  Seldom do we actually think that the person is hurt because of what we said.  It must be, we think, because they don’t know how to take a joke.

Not surprisingly however, sarcasm is often funniest to the person who’s speaking it.  Typically it’s not nearly as funny to those on the receiving end. Unfortunately, when (and if) those on the receiving end try to stand up for themselves, the speakers tell them they can’t take a joke.  The target then begins to question themselves and try their best to ignore the sting. 

When it comes to sarcasm and teasing, however, the rules to follow are simple;
•    If it stings—it’s not funny
•    Just because you say it with a smile and a chuckle, doesn’t mean it’s funny or it doesn’t hurt
•    If the person on the receiving end says they don’t like it or it hurts, then stop it—it hurts.

I love a great sense of humor and would never tell people to stop being playful.  Just make sure that when you’re using humor, it’s not at someone else’s expense.  That takes the humor out of it.

CHALLENGE:  Watch sarcasm in the world.  Pay attention to all the “jokes” at others’ expense and see if you can catch the underbelly or sarcasm.  If someone in your life doesn’t like your teasing or sarcasm, stop dismissing what they’re saying and LISTEN.  Be playful—not hurtful.  NOTE:  the person on the receiving end is the judge of whether or not what you said is hurtful—not you.


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Coming from another culture to the United States, I was excited to learn about your culture and traditions, embracing it as my own.
But there was one little problem that I couldn't ignore or dismiss. Guess what! It was sarcasm. No matter what excuses or comments they gave about being sarcastic, (the most common: "you're just being too sensitive!", I knew that I had been hurt by what they said. It hurt deeply and was very real to me. It undermined my self-confidence enormously. There is so much of the American culture that I truly love, but SARCASM is something that I have never been able to embrace. It it hurtful (no matter how, who, or when). It is like a dagger secretly stabbed into you, leaving scars forever. I wish that sarcasm could be eradicated, and replaced with good old honest humor instead. Kindness is always the best way, even in humor.
Thank you for writing about it.

DEAR HJORDIS: What a great perspective to have! Thank you for sharing your insight.
Take care-Lisa


You made me go back and read a ton of old blog posts from my website. These deal largely with interpersonal relationships, customer service, management, etc.

My writing style can be biting, sarcastic, and funny (though perhaps only to me?) But I always seem to be expressing some type of dissatisfaction with the way we treat each other or ourselves.

Thanks for doing your homework on the word root, but I think the colloquial term 'sarcasm' (at least in the USA) doesn't always have negative connotations. Although not always, most of the time my digs are directed at myself. While these can also be damaging, I also think it's a form of laughing at ourselves and not taking every comment as an attack on our identities.

I do agree that people can hide hatred behind sarcasm. It can be hurtful. Plain truth, in-person communication is the salve for so many ills.

But a life without sarcasm - even when calling out certain people - might bore me to tears! I've even heard national talk show hosts advocate that fathers should sometimes openly ridicule children who complain / whine too much as a type of necessary male initiation.

Sarcastic types like me find this appealing; though I've found myself loading 'too much ammo' and really hurting feelings, as you've suggested.

So I guess we should agree to find a balance . . . because 'we never know the whole story' (a post I wrote today, in fact!)

Thanks for your post!

DEAR JEFF: I had to chuckle when I read your comment. Having grown up in a sarcastic family, I totally get what you're saying. Balance is good as long as we realize that if it stings--it's a flesh tear not a joke.
Oh yeah,about the fathers ridiculing their kids--that is not one of the healthiest pieces of advice I've ever heard (note the sarcasm:-). I have total faith that our children are going to get enough ridicule out in the world--they don't also need it from home. Our homes should be a safe haven for our children.
Thanks for your comments!

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