‘Well, aren’t you special.’ Too far?

Nicole Schroeder

Detecting sarcasm has always been difficult for senior Shray Kumar, especially with some of his closer friends. Even though he knows what sarcasm is, he says he only recognizes when someone is trying to say something sarcastically if he or she make it extremely obvious.
“I can only tell if someone is being sarcastic if their sarcastic tone is heavily exaggerated, or if I know they’re lying to me in a joking manner,” Kumar said. “Another way I can tell if they’re being sarcastic is if they tell me they are — after I’ve already taken what they said seriously.”
Surprisingly, however, Kumar is far from alone. According to a 2006 survey by Patricia Rockwell, only 33 percent of participants were able to provide a true sarcastic comment when prompted. Instead, a far majority of those surveyed gave responses that used more positive language or were more teasing in nature, which are considered ironic comments but not truly sarcastic.
Claire Adams, a University of Missouri-Columbia graduate with a Masters Degree in English, said such a mistake is common, and that it can be hard for people to detect true sarcasm in everyday speech.
“The chance for miscommunication when using sarcasm is high as a general rule,” Adams said. “Some people tend to take things literally, and since sarcasm relies on the listener understanding that the intended meaning comes from the opposite of what is said, main ideas and points can be lost entirely.”
This can be a real problem for many who use sarcasm often, freshman Katie Whaley said, as it can make one’s comments seem rude or hurtful to those around them. Whaley said she knows certain people who are sarcastic too often in their comments to others, causing them to wrongly be seen as mean or unsympathetic.
“I have a friend whose main characteristic is sarcasm. Sometimes, her sarcasm is witty, and everyone can have a laugh at what she said. Other times though, it’s more hurtful to the person she’s saying it to than anything else,” Whaley said. “Because of the hurtful sarcastic comments, she’s given a mean profile and deemed unapproachable. When someone is too sarcastic, it hurts both parties.”
Still, though some may misuse sarcasm, Kumar said he doesn’t believe it’s necessarily all that bad, pointing out that it can be seen as fun and light-hearted when used in the right setting.
“Some settings, like a funeral, are not really appropriate settings for sarcasm. Other settings, like a party, are very appropriate for sarcasm,” Kumar said. “If sarcasm is used to lighten the mood, then that’s an exception. However making fun of someone is never appropriate in a serious situation.”
Adams agrees, and said as long as people use sarcasm correctly and in the right settings, it can be a “linguistic tool” to use in conversations rather than a hindrance to them.
“I appreciate sarcasm to a certain degree. I myself am pretty sarcastic, but I am very careful about how and when I use it,” Adams said. “Sarcasm can easily cross over the line into ‘unnecessarily cruel,’ but … sarcasm can [also] be a wonderful tool to point out ridiculous parts of an argument or system, as it puts the topic in question under a microscope to be examined.”

art by Megan Goyette