Catholics and Sarcasm: Be Careful

From the Catholic Phoenix
By April Yearger

I am worried by the dominance of sarcasm in our culture. My personal choice to adopt a sarcastic attitude began in the late 70s. I was attempting to be funny and witty and therefore accepted by my peers. As I grew older—and particularly once my children arrived—I realized that sarcasm is perhaps the most cutting form of communication in existence.

Dictionaries I have consulted define sarcasm in terms of bitterness and pain. It is “a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain;” it is “a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual.”

Notice that the dictionary states that sarcasm is a form of irony. However, there is a huge difference between irony and sarcasm. The origin of the word sarcasm (from the Greek sarkazmos and sarkazein) literally means “to strip off the flesh.” The etymology helps explain why our understanding of “sarcasm” involves causing pain.

Irony, on the other hand, is defined similarly but without the bitter, caustic intent. Irony is “the use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning,” or it is “an expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning.”

Intent is the key difference between sarcasm and irony. To be witty, then, is an expression of one’s own personality. Anyone can appreciate good, uplifting humor. It helps us to deal more joyfully with reality. What we need to ask is whether our intentions are pure. Sarcasm usually makes us feel superior as we utter a cutting comment. As Catholics, do we wish to be seen as sarcastic? Is the use of sarcasm an acceptable form of communication? When is a sharp wit acceptable and charitable? Is sarcasm, in any of its forms ever acceptable? Does the use of sarcasm lead to a joyless state of cynicism? Are my children sarcastic? Am I sarcastic?

Unfortunately, sarcasm dominates our entertainment world, and is carefully mixed in with good wit and irony, making it difficult to tell the difference.

In all of our interactions with others, we must examine our use of sarcasm and avoid its predominance in our conversations. We must ask ourselves whether what we say is truly acceptable wit and good humor, or if it is just a cutting remark, likely uttered to raise ourselves above our peers.

I close with a quote from Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish essayist and historian, that reminds us of the deadly seriousness of this form of speech: “Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the Devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it.”

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3 Responses to Catholics and Sarcasm: Be Careful

  1. JabbaPapa says:

    Sarcasm is needed by those who would understand no other form of evangelisation.

    Luke 13 : 31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

    32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’

    33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!


  2. Pastorius says:

    Reading the various articles I become confused. I just saw one on Death which said live for the day and now this letter above says live for the next day and also there is no death.


  3. Dimitra says:

    Who is the mask?


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