A Lesson in Sarcasm

A dear friend sent me an email: “Whassup with Isaiah 6:10?”

In a hurry, I sent her the footnote (link here; scroll to the bottom of the page) from the Netbible and told her that it approximated my thoughts.

She replied that she had often wondered if there was a place for sarcasm in the Celestial Kingdom. I told her that I was pretty sure that Job 38 sealed the deal.

Questions for Discussion:
–How have you been blessed by the sarcasm of others?
–Why is sarcasm important?
–How might we become more sarcastic? How can you develop sarcasm in your own life?
–What are some opportunities that you have had to be sarcastic?

27 comments for “A Lesson in Sarcasm

  1. Ardis E. Parshall
    September 30, 2009 at 9:56 am

    As a piece of self-referential sarcasm, this post is brilliant.

  2. Sean
    September 30, 2009 at 10:02 am

    At first, I thought your post would be in reference to the term “Whassup?”!

    I think your discussion questions provide a good framework for analyzing other principles as well.

  3. September 30, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Three cheers for the Net Bible and its helpful and accessible footnotes. Could we just chuck the one zillion TG references in the LDS Bible and substitute a few useful footnotes in the next LDS Bible? For example, here are the LDS Bible footnotes to Isaiah 6:10:

    TG Hardheartedness
    TG Spiritual Blindness

  4. September 30, 2009 at 10:39 am

    I think there are different uses of sarcasm. Some of them are mean and demeaning, and some are more about humor and less about humor at someone’s expense. I try to traffic in the latter kinds of uses.

  5. gst
    September 30, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Thank you for this wonderful post! It is SO helpful!!!

  6. September 30, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Sarcasm is the half-witted child of irony.

    –How have you been blessed by the sarcasm of others?
    –Can’t think that I have been, except in the way a slap across the face has opened my eyes to something important in the slapper’s nature that I had missed.

    –Why is sarcasm important?
    –See above remark about eyes being opened.

    –How might we become more sarcastic? How can you develop sarcasm in your own life?
    Irony. I think you mean, “How can we become more ironic?” The OED informs that the word “sarcasm” comes to us from a Greek word meaning, “to tear the flesh, gnash teeth, speak bitterly”. Anyone wanting more of that in his or her life might consider seeking counsel for … oh, I don’t know … anger management, maybe?

    –What are some opportunities that you have had to be sarcastic?
    –I must have had and used such opportunities in the past but can’t remember specifics. The forgetful fogs of repentance, I suppose.

    From Holman’s A Handbook to Literature: “Sarcasm–A form of verbal irony, in which, under the guise of praise a caustic and bitter expression of strong and personal disapproval is given. Sarcasm is personal, jeering, intended to hurt, and is intended as a sneering taunt.”

    Sarcasm lies in must and clutter in irony’s basement along with sardonic language and cynicism. In the upper regions of irony, however, one might find totally sweet liberation.

    Sarcasm is something I’d expect of Jonah, but Isaiah? Maybe here or there, but if so, it isn’t his best work. High irony, now–along with metaphor and other poetic boundary-crossing tropes–that’s where Isaiah shows prophetic umph.

  7. Adam Greenwood
    September 30, 2009 at 11:23 am

    It probably is sarcasm. But anyone who has been blessed with a roomful of recalcitrant teenagers has surely felt like urging the Lord to just hurry up and damn them already.

  8. Hunter
    September 30, 2009 at 11:24 am

    I can’t claim this as mine, but I think Jesus was being sarcastic when he said that one of the signs of his second coming would be the appearance of “wars and rumors of wars.” I mean, duh, when *hasn’t* there been a time of wars and rumors of war?

  9. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    September 30, 2009 at 11:33 am

    I can get my full daily dose of aggressive sarcasm at any anti-Mormon web page, or in the comments on any story about the Church or any Mormon that appears in the Salt Lake Tribune. It is the mode of speech that dominates the inhabitants of the great and spacious building in Lehi’s dream.

    On the other hand, I support the moderate use of defensive sarcasm.

    I must also admit that sarcasm was an occasional mode of speech for inspired men like Brigham Young. Speaking to a congregation one Sunday, after having observed the operation of a local court, Brigham described the lawyers: “Their hearts are as black as the ace of spades. They love sin and roll it on their tongues as a sweet morsel. They are a stink in the nostril of God and the angels.” Then he called for all who agreed with him to say “amen”, at which point the recorder noted a unanimous “Amen” from the congregation.

    This was before Brigham sent two of his sons to law school in the East, corresponding with them in very measured tones about their duty to be righteous lawyers.

  10. September 30, 2009 at 11:48 am

    their duty to be righteous lawyers.

    Another instance of Brigham’s sarcasm? (Oh, come on, now, somebody had to say it!)

  11. Mark B.
    September 30, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Aye, search the scriptures! For in them ye think ye will find instances of sarcasm.

  12. Patricia Karamesines
    September 30, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Mark B.,

    Good scripture. Someone once pointed out to me that the word “think” in that scripture possibly renders it ironic. Some might accept it as sarcastic. It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between high irony and sarcasm.

    Et alia: The tell of sarcasm is in its wink of intent. Sarcasm, cynicism, sardonic language: their defining characteristic is the intent to hurt, harm, maim, even kill. A person may be so numb or innocent or lacking of the weakness the arrow of sarcasm aims for as to not feel the ka-thunk. But as they say, it’s the thought that counts.

    As for the overall cry of “Here, here!” re: sarcasm’s appropriate uses, I agree that there’s much to appreciate about sarcasm. It’s much more civilized than, say, running over the target of your seething intent with a two-ton vehicle. I can admire such restraint.

    Teenagers: With teenagers, sarcasm runs the same risks as spanking. It seems to work until the kid gets big enough to hit back.

    I have one teenager and one soon-to-be. Both resort to sarcasm as a defense against calls to take responsibility for their behavior. Between adults, sarcasm supposes victory only when the object of its intent has vulnerabilities open to that particular attack or is otherwise less rhetorically endowed.

    I understand that sarcasm is a darling of conventional modern rhetorical wit. Like anger and fear, it ought to remain available to those who need it to help them escape situations where they possess no other defenses.

    But to hold it as a paragon for teaching, admonishing, and other social interaction?

    If you want. But as the golden rule says, it could come back to bite you.

  13. Peter LLC
    September 30, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    In my view, those who employ sarcasm come off as rabid, fanatical, bitter, and unreliable.

  14. Vader
    September 30, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Sarcasm is the half-witted child of irony.

    Bon mot for the day.

    I think that really is the distinction between sarcasm and irony.

    Can’t imagine when I’m going to find time get my daily dose of sarcasm, though, since I’m spending all my free time surfing the Web.

  15. spencer
    September 30, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    I hope for the Celestial Kingdom for the blessing of sarcasm. Since I was a young boy I have longed for the gift of sarcasm. My every attempt at sarcasm has come across as sincere and resulted in very hurt feelings, even amongst those whose sarcasm was a way of life. Every once in a while I try to reach above my station in life and give a crack at sarcasm, and every time my lofty goals are shut down and I end up on my sarcastically blessed wife’s bad side.

    My one redemption is that sarcasm is not lost on me. I appreciate it, see the humor in it, and can take it in any form that it is expressed at me. But I am unable to reciprocate, it will only end in tears.

    If anyone can point me to a way to develop this lofty goal, I would be deeply appreciative and in your debt.

    This is not sarcastic, I mean it, I told you that I am no good at it anyway.

  16. Duke of Earl
    September 30, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    #8 Not to threadjack, but I heard an opinion on the “wars and rumors of wars” prophecy, that though there have always been such things, the prophecy is that we will HEAR of wars and rumors of wars, and in these latter days, we certainly hear about things happening in remote corners of the world almost instantly.

  17. queuno
    September 30, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Go read the story of the Brother of Jared gathering the stones for the boats. Doesn’t anyone hear the Lord’s exasperation – bordering on sarcasm – in the reply?

  18. September 30, 2009 at 5:43 pm


    I can get my full daily dose of aggressive sarcasm at any anti-Mormon web page, or in the comments on any story about the Church or any Mormon that appears in the Salt Lake Tribune.

    Or any comments on any stories on any websites remotely relating to Mormons, Utah, large families, Mitt Romney, the Osmonds, religion, coffee/tea, jello, or underwear.

  19. Cameron
    September 30, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    I had a missionary companion that was sarcastic so often and without changing his voice inflection that I occasionally thought he was telling the truth. I may be a little dense, but it was quite frustrating at times.

    Upon first arriving in Tahiti, my first reaction was that the local sense of humor was simplistic compared to our ‘sophisticated’ humor. Over time, I began to appreciate the simple pleasures and humor the people saw in every day life, and by the time I came home I found that much of what I thought was funny before didn’t really appeal to me anymore.

  20. Joachim
    September 30, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    The following sequence, including the background of the murmurring by the scribes and Pharisees, makes this parable’s description of the “ninety and nine” look a little sarcastic.

    1 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
    2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
    3 And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
    4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine ain the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
    5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
    6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
    7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

  21. Friendly
    September 30, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Patricia K. (6, 12): They have not ears to hear.

  22. Lupita
    October 1, 2009 at 12:25 am

    Patricia, thanks for the distinction. I’ve been told several times by friends that they enjoy my “sarcastic” humor which depresses me. I’m not sarcastic, haven’t been since high school. I try to point out that I’m being ironic but once you try to explain humor, it’s pretty much a lost cause.

  23. Mark Adams
    October 1, 2009 at 4:42 am

    Have to agree with #6 and #22 about sarcasm. I think the term sarcasm is oft misused. Irony is usually what is meant.

    As far as Isaiah 6:10 goes, maybe Isaiah just had a “natural man” day when he wrote this.

  24. October 1, 2009 at 10:04 am

    This post made me so happy this morning! You have blessed my life, Julie.

  25. October 1, 2009 at 10:19 am

    No sarcasm intended above.

  26. annegb
    October 1, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    My boss said, “Hi Arlene, welcome to work!” one day. I thought that was very sarcastic.

  27. October 2, 2009 at 9:03 am

    I was blessed by reading gst’s comment #5.

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