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When sarcasm is used within the context of a given rhetoric, the main purpose is usually to mock a given idea or position by almost pretending to agree with it and parrot it. For example, if a person says in a snide tone of voice that something was a great idea, then he is using sarcasm, and what he means to say is that it was actually a terrible idea. The effective use of sarcasm is generally premised on some shared cultural understanding of norms. 

Understanding the term

Sarcasm is a literary device that uses irony to mock someone or something or convey contempt.

Sarcasm can also be defined as the use of words that mean the opposite of what the speaker or writer intends, especially to insult or show irritation with someone, or to amuse others. Sarcasm is generally viewed as cruel and emotionally cutting to its subject. The word “sarcasm” is derived from the French sarcasm, from the Late Latin sarcasmos, and from the Greek sarkasmos, meaning “to tear flesh” “bite the lips in rage,” or “sneer.” Its first known use was in 1550. Synonyms for sarcasm are affront, barb, brickbat, cut, dart, dig, dis, epithet, gird, out-down, and slight.

Examples of sarcasm

Sarcasm is related to satire or farce, which is a well-known genre of literature and the dramatic arts. There are seven different types of sarcasm, and their denotation is created by the tone in which they are spoken. The three most common types of sarcasm and examples are listed below.

Self-deprecating sarcasm is an overstated sense of inferiority and worthlessness, as in the following example:

“Can you work overtime this weekend, Larry?”

“Yeah, sure. I was just going to get married this weekend, but she probably would have left me anyway.”

Brooding sarcasm is when the speaker says something polite and subservient but is clearly irritated, as in the following example:

“Could you please bring out another plate of ham, James?”

“Sure, I live to serve you.”

Deadpan sarcasm is stated with no emotion whatsoever, so it’s difficult to tell if the statement is serious or in jest. For example, 

“Are you coming to the brunch this weekend?”

“No, I have to participate in a satanic ritual. It’s my turn to perform the sacrifice.”

Regular usage

Sarcasm is most often used in conversation in order to convey criticism or disdain for someone a person is speaking to or about. Following are more examples of the types of sarcasm.

Polite sarcasm is subtle, and a little too polite. It often comes across as genuine, but then the listener realizes it is insincere.

“Can you work overtime this weekend?”

“Sure! I can’t wait! I’ll bring a party pizza!”

Obnoxious sarcasm is usually bitter and spoken in a whiny tone of voice; for example:

“Do you need help with your research paper??”

“Nope. I'm a better researcher than Einstein and Hawking combined.”

Manic sarcasm is spoken with unnatural exuberance, and may sound a bit crazy. For example, 

“Can you pick up the kids from their second birthday party this weekend?”

“YES!! I absolutely can’t WAIT to do that! Can we do it again next weekend???”

Raging sarcasm uses hyperbole and possibly threats of violence. It is usually the hallmark of a psychotic rant; unpredictable and uncalled for. For example, it might include vulgar language and extreme conclusions, so you'd probably avoid using sarcasm for serious types of writing, like a dissertation.

Examples of sarcasm from British humor are exemplary of polite sarcasm. Having been shaped by the stability of British society, it’s strongest element is satire about “the absurdity of everyday life.”  Class systems and sexual taboos are most often commented on, with puns, innuendo, and intellectual jokes thrown in. For instance, the following quotes demonstrate this well.

“I’m really not very good at self-deprecation.”

Ricky Gervais is an English comedian and actor who has won seven BAFTA awards, two Emmys and three Golden Globes. Gervais states, “There’s a received wisdom in the U.K. that American’s don’t get irony. This is of course not true. But what is true is that they don’t use it all the time…we use sarcasm as a shield and a weapon.”

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