Sarcasm – Concept, irony, figure of speech and examples

We explain what sarcasm is, its relationship with irony and its use as a rhetorical figure. Also, sarcastic phrases from famous authors.

Sarcasm is a mocking expression that expresses displeasure through irony.

What is sarcasm?

We call sarcasm a form of expression that is subtle but mocking, biting, with which we express displeasure or indignation, using irony. That is to say, that a sarcastic expression uses irony to mock an argument or ridicule the interlocutor, often expressing the opposite of what is really thought.

Sarcasm is taken, as the proverb goes, by “the lowest form of humor, but the highest form of wit”, meaning that it is a rude, insulting mockery, but at the same time uses very subtle forms to make it and elaborate.

In many countries sarcasm is seen as an irritating manifestation of intelligence, often used as a means of expression “in code” or “in code” among those who know the true meaning of what is said, which goes unnoticed by the insulted.

For its part, the word sarcasm comes from ancient Greek, from the word sarkasmos, translatable as “ripping flesh”, with the sense that it is a mockery that penetrates deeply. It is composed of the voices sarkós (“Meat”) and the suffix -asmos (“Hit”, “something abrupt”).

Sarcasm and irony

The line that separates sarcasm from irony is very thin and very subtle, and often depends on the context that accompanies what is said. Usually, both consist of saying the opposite of what you think.

However, each is used with slightly different intentions. Sarcasm aspires to mockery, to hurt the other without even noticing it or in a way that is not direct. Instead, irony is a rhetorical figure that expresses the opposite of what has been said or that it reverses the usual logic of things, achieving a comic or dramatic effect.

Thus, an irony can be received as a change of perspectives or a phrase that reveals things hidden in what has been said; while sarcasm is often received as a more destructive, malicious comment, which when discovered usually generates discomfort in the other. In other words: if you don’t lash out at anyone, it’s not sarcasm.

For example, in the following two witty phrases by the Irish writer Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) we can distinguish the fine line between sarcasm and irony:

  • “A true friend stabs you in the front” (irony: a friend shouldn’t stab us, but according to Wilde’s humorous vision, if he is to do it, he would have to do it from the front and not from behind).
  • “Why was I born with these contemporaries?” (sarcasm: he lashes out at his contemporaries, probably his rivals in writing, with an apparently naive question, which expresses the opposite: “why were they born at the same time as me?”).

Sarcasm as a figure of speech

homophobia story oscar wilde
Writer Oscar Wilde used sarcasm and irony as figures of speech.

As well as irony, sarcasm can be used as a rhetorical figure, since it expresses the opposite of what is apparently said or what was initially affirmed. Nevertheless, the result of the literary use of sarcasm tends to be humorous, burlesque, or as a form of criticism or censorship of something.

That is why many writers resorted to sarcasm as a way of expressing their disagreement or disapproval of a ruler, without the censors being able to easily identify the mockery.

Examples of sarcasm

Other examples of sarcasm can be, for example:

  • A son walks with his father and notices that it begins to rain, and he says to him: “Father, what Wonderful day you chose to go out for a walk ”.
  • Now let’s take the same situation, but let’s think that the son did not want to go out for a walk and in the end he allowed himself to be convinced by the father, and he says: “Father, that’s good that you convinced me to go out for a walk ”.
  • And a sarcastic response from the father could be: “Son, you don’t know the pleasant company that you are for me at this moment ”.

Sarcastic phrases of famous people

Other sarcastic phrases of renowned authors and personalities are the following:

  • “Sometimes I need something that only you can give me: your absence” – Ashleigh Brilliant, British cartoonist and writer.
  • “I find television very educational: every time someone turns it on, I go to the other room to read a book” – Groucho Marx, American comedian.
  • “History shows that nations behave wisely after having exhausted all alternatives” – Abba Eban, Israeli politician.
  • “Marriage consists of trying to solve a problem that neither of them would have had if they were single” – Eddie Cantor, American comedian.
  • “The true hero of some literary works is the reader who endures them” – Sergio Golwarz, Argentine artist.