Ever tried being sarcastic, only to have everyone fail to understand your sarcasm? Could there be some unwritten rule decreeing the limits of sarcasm, a clause of causticness, a law of lampoonery, a statute of satire, wisecrack writ, a… okay, okay, I’ll stop before I get a synonym subpoena.
The Sarcasm Code. It’s beat up because it’s sooooo well-loved.
My point: effective sarcasm is a sliding scale. At one end, the obvious, schmaltzy schlock represented by a quote from the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy – “Oh, a sarcasm detector. That’s a really useful invention” – and at the other end, a head-scratchingly placid statement that is barely distinguishable as an opinion, let alone sarcasm – the phrase “You certainly have a vibrant personality” spoken to a yelling madman, for instance. In this essay, I hope to explain a host of different points along this scale, and how to identify them.
“But wait,” you might well say. “Isn’t it impossible to convey an accurate definition of differing types of sarcasm through the written word? After all, vocal intonation is a huge factor in sarcasm.”
To this I reply, “Why, yes it is, reader with a strangely detailed and relevant observation!” Sadly, this element of the art will be lost to our discussion today, but in compensation, I’ll take the next paragraph to detail the vocal element of sarcasm.
Sarcasm, as it is typically understood, involves emphasis on certain words that are clearly out of place (“Well, that’s a normal approach,” for instance). This emphasis is often a higher pitch, and often the highest at the center of the word. Much of the subtler sarcasm, however, is spoken with no emphasis, designed to sound much more reasonable and, thereby, subtle. That’s all you need to know. It’s sooooooooo much information.
Here’s the scale: