Is sarcasm always considered, "mean-spirited"?

Can it be used in a friendly way?

A new coworker who came in to share our office warned us, “I tend to be a bit sarcastic, I hope I don’t offend you.”

I replied, “Oh really? I hadn’t noticed.”

He smiled. I’d say it was a pretty friendly exchange.

Sarcasm, by definition, is directed against another person and is therefore apt to be mean-spirited.

Irony is not directed against anyone in particular, and thus isn’t necessarily a problem.

I am often ironic; I make every effort not to get sarcastic.

Ah, sarcasm, the *Funny ‘Fuck You’*™

Good stuff, that.

IMHO sarcasm is only mean-spirited if the target is undeserving of the barb being directed at him or her.

Jon Stewart, Leno and Letterman monologues often use sarcasm but they are not necessarily always mean-spirited.

It can also be used in a friendly/constructive way. The fact that it is sharp and cutting doesn’t mean that it has to be mean-spirited.

I don’t see it as mean-spirited necessarily, although it certainly can be quite cutting if used in that way.

Someone asks me, “how’s that sandwich you got from the cafeteria?”
I reply, “oh it’s delicious!” and do one of these :rolleyes:

To me, that is sarcasm, and I’m only being mean to the sandwich (well, and the person who made it I guess, if she were to overhear me).

No, that’s irony. See above.

I use sarcasm all the time when talking to people… It’s rarely ever meant in a mean-spirited way. In fact, I find it a great way to have an enjoyable and light-hearted conversation.

I hadn’t thought about there being a distinction until I saw your post, and so I looked it up: turns out that Webster uses “irony” in the definition of “sarcasm.”

I think that Stainz’s response would be considered both sarcasm and irony – the statement is the opposite of its meaning, but it also (indirectly) implies that the person who asked about the sandwich is stupid for not knowing the answer already.
I love this place: where else but my LiveJournal could I happily natter about the difference between sarcasm and irony? :smiley:

So sarcasm is a form of irony designed to be wounding – I think that there’s still a distinction there worth maintaining, since I think being hurtful towards people is, in general, A Bad Thing.

You can also use sarcasm to defend somebody.

twickster’s biting sarcasm is probably why she’s so unpopular.

Self depricating sarcasm unarms even the harshest of foes.

But then again, what the fuck do I know? I’m just a message board genious.

Here in New York (where I work) and Northern NJ (where I live), how much someone likes you can often be gauged by how much effort they put into insulting you (very often involving sarcasm). A friend of mine who moved to New Hampshire found that that same behaviour could cause someone to burst into tears or just hit you.

Depends on which dictionary you use. Cambridge goes for “the use of remarks which clearly mean the opposite of what they say, and which are made in order to hurt someone’s feelings or to criticize something in an amusing way”

i.e. you can use sarcasm without targeting any individual.

I say sarcasm can definietly be harmless and can be amusing even to its “victim” for want of a better word, but I somehow don’t feel able to produce proof of it. I love people with sharp sarcastic senses of humour, and its equally fine that I should be the target at times.

**Ethelbert ** may have a point about it being more prevalent in some places than in others, I think. There’s plenty of joking between friends here which is not means-spirited and not meant to be, but I could imagine some people failing to get it. (Perhaps it tends to be a city thing? And, yeah, all righty, Glasgow is indeed a mere hamlet compared to NTC. :slight_smile: ))

Sarcasm need not be hurtful, and can be used in a joking manner. It happens all the time socially.

It’s also not always bad to use sarcasm as a means of criticism, or for other “hurtful” purposes. This is a primary ingredient of satire, which can be a very effective tool for pointing out stupidity, and it is the duty of all civilized citizens to point out stupidity when confronted with it. This applies not only to social and political cases, but also to individuals who are a menace to right-thinking society. It may be “hurtful” to its target, but that’s precisely the point. Some people/actions/ideas absolutely must be hurt. See Aristophanes, Pope, Swift, Voltaire, Twain, and many others for examples of well-used sarcasm.

What, you’re trying to say people from NY & NJ are more sarcastic than others?
I would be insulted by that if I did not think it was true. :wink: I do not always realize that some people do not consider sarcasm as a normal form of communication. I have beeb called very sarcastic and taken it as a compliment.


The term ‘sarcasm’ comes from the Greek word for tearing flesh (compare it to the word sarcophagus, meaning ‘flesh-eater’). I once heard a learned lecture on Roman humor which suggested that in antiquity, humor tended to be vicious in character, giving rise to the term ‘sarcasm’ in the humorous sense familiar to us today. However, the meaning of the term and the mode of expression it represents has clearly evolved so that it is often conflated with humorous irony. This does not mean that sarcasm is synonymous with irony, and I restrict my use of the term to cases which are clearly meant to, as it were, rend flesh.

Thanks for sticking up for me and my use of sarcasm. However, the implication wouldn’t be that the person was stupid for asking, in ANY way, unless I was obviously gagging as I ate the crappy sandwich. I would just be sarcastically saying “oh it’s great” with an eyeroll instead of saying “oh it’s shitty”.

I thought irony would be if I said:
“Oh it’s soooo great - I can die happy now after eating such a marvelous sandwich” :rolleyes:, and then choked to death on it.