Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Sarcasm

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
English

In J.D. Salinger’s book, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), the main character Holden yells the following quote when he is leaving his classmates at boarding school. He does not actually care if they sleep well, but he is using sarcasm to express his frustration about his situation. Sarcasm is a literary device that people use to mock others and express complex emotions.

Sleep tight, ya morons! (ch 8)."

Sarcasm definition and its purpose

Sarcasm is a literary device in which a speaker says one thing but means another in order to ridicule or mock.

Purpose of sarcasm

People use sarcasm for many different purposes. One main purpose of sarcasm is to express feelings, in particular feelings of frustration, judgment, and contempt. Instead of people just saying that they are annoyed or angry, sarcasm allows speakers to emphasize how upset they are about a topic or situation.

Since sarcasm allows for a rich expression of emotion, writers use sarcasm to create multidimensional, emotional characters. The variety of types and tones of sarcasm allows for dynamic, engaging dialogue that helps readers understand characters on an in-depth level.

Writers also use sarcasm to add humor to their writing. For instance, in Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Jonathan Swift uses sarcasm to make his readers laugh. The character of Gulliver speaks about the Emperor and says:

He is taller by the breadth of my nail and than any of his court, which alone is enough to strike an awe into beholders."

Here Gulliver is using sarcasm to make fun of how short the king is. This type of sarcasm is meant to entertain the reader and understand Gulliver's initial thoughts about the king. As Gulliver makes fun of the king's height he belittles him and expresses his feelings that he is not that physically powerful. This statement is humorous because although the king is small, Gulliver notes that his height "strikes awe" among the Lilliputians he rules over, who are also extremely short. This observation helps the reader understand the differences between Lilliputian society and human society.

Types of sarcasm

Self-Deprecating Sarcasm

Self-deprecating sarcasm is a type of sarcasm in which a person makes fun of himself. For example, if someone is struggling in math class and he says: "Wow I am really great at math!" he is using self-deprecating sarcasm.

Brooding Sarcasm

Brooding sarcasm is a type of sarcasm in which a speaker expresses pity for himself and his situation. For example, if someone has to take an extra shift at work and he says: "Awesome! It's not like I already work all day every day!" he is using brooding sarcasm.

Deadpan Sarcasm

Deadpan sarcasm is a type of sarcasm in which the speaker comes across as completely serious. The word "deadpan" is an adjective that means expressionless. People who use deadpan sarcasm are thus making sarcastic statements without any emotion. This delivery can often make it difficult for others to realize a speaker is using sarcasm. For example, if someone says, "I really want to go to that party" with a deadpan tone, it might be difficult to tell if he really wants to go or not.

Polite Sarcasm

Polite sarcasm is a type of sarcasm in which the speaker appears to be being nice but is actually insincere. For example, if someone tells another person "You look really nice today!" but does not mean it, he is using polite sarcasm.

Obnoxious Sarcasm

Obnoxious sarcasm occurs when a speaker uses sarcasm to obviously and directly offend others. For instance, imagine a person invites his friend to a party, and his friend replies, "Sure, I would love to come and sit in your dark, dreary basement all night." The friend would be using obnoxious sarcasm to offend his friend.

Raging Sarcasm

Raging sarcasm is a device in which the speaker uses sarcasm to express anger. Speakers who use this type of sarcasm often use a lot of exaggeration and may appear violent. For example, imagine a woman asks her husband to do laundry and he replies by yelling: "What a fantastic idea! Why don't I just scrub all the floors too? I'm already the maid around here!" This man would be using raging sarcasm to express how upset he is at his wife's request.

Manic Sarcasm

Manic sarcasm is a type of sarcasm in which the speaker’s tone is so unnatural that he appears to be in a manic mental state. For example, if a person is clearly stressed out but says, "I'm so fine right now! Everything is absolutely perfect!" he is using manic sarcasm.

Sarcasm examples

Sarcasm in literature

Writers use sarcasm a lot in literature to provide insight into characters’ perspectives, develop character relationships, and create humor. For example, in William Shakespeare’s play Merchant of Venice (1600) the character Portia discusses her suitor Monsieur Le Bon and says:

God made him and therefore let him pass for a man (Act I, Scene II)."

By saying “let him pass for a man” Portia suggests that Monsieur Le Bon doesn't embody typical manly qualities. Portia has many suitors and she looks down on Monsieur Le Bon because he is full of himself and has an unoriginal personality. This sarcastic comment helps Portia express her feelings of disdain for Monsieur Le Bon and helps the reader understand how Portia values individuality in a man. She is using sarcasm because she is saying one thing but suggesting something else to mock a person. This use of sarcasm helps the audience understand how she looks down on Monsieur Le Bon.

Sarcasm, Hamlet Example, StudySmarter'Meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables" Flaticon.

Another famous example of sarcasm in literature occurs in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet (1603). The main character Hamlet is upset that his mother has an affair with his uncle. He describes the situation by saying:

Thrift, thrift Horatio! The funeral bak’d meats

Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables” (Act I, Scene II).

Here Hamlet is ridiculing his mother for getting married right after his father died. He says that she remarried so quickly that she could use the food from his father’s funeral to feed the guests at the wedding. She did not do this of course and he knows this, but by saying she did this he is using sarcasm to mock her actions. In using sarcasm, Shakespeare shows how judgmental Hamlet is of his mother. The sarcasm creates a bitter tone that reflects the tension his mother’s new marriage has created in their relationship. This tension is important to understand because it makes Hamlet conflicted about hurting his mother to avenge his father.

There is even sarcasm in the Bible. In the book of Exodus Moses has taken people out of Egypt and into the desert to save them. After a while the people are upset and they ask Moses:

Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? (Exodus 14:11)."

The people know this was not the reason Moses took them but they are upset and are expressing their frustration through sarcasm.

It is typically not appropriate to use sarcasm when writing an academic essay. Sarcasm is informal and expresses personal opinion rather than evidence that could support an academic argument. However, people may consider using it when crafting a hook for an essay or when writing dialogue for a fiction story.

Sarcasm punctuation

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if a phrase is sarcastic or not, especially when reading literature, as readers cannot hear the tone of voice. Writers have thus historically represented sarcasm with different symbols and approaches. For instance, in the late medieval age, English printer Henry Denham created a symbol called a percontation point that appears similar to a backward question mark.1 The percontation point was first used in the 1580s as a way to differentiate interrogatory questions, or questions where answers were actually expected, from rhetorical questions.

The percontation point didn't catch on and ultimately died out after less than a century. In its short time, however, it was an innovative way to represent sarcasm on the page, allowing the reader to differentiate when the author was actually asking a question and when he was using sarcasm for dramatic effect.

Sarcasm, Punctuation Example, StudySmarterPercontation Points, Wikimedia Commons.

Writers today tend to use quotation marks to show that they are using a word in a way that it is not typically used. For instance, an author might write:

Joe and Mary rarely spoke to each other anymore. They were “friends” only for their parents’ sake.

In this sentence, the use of quotation marks around the word friends suggests to the reader that Joe and Mary are not genuine friends and that the writer is being sarcastic.

Difference between irony and sarcasm

It is easy to confuse sarcasm with irony, but the important distinction between the two has to do with the mocking tone of sarcasm.

Verbal irony is a literary device in which a speaker says one thing but means another in order to bring attention to an important point.

Sarcasm is a type of verbal irony in which a speaker says something other than what he means to mock or ridicule. When people use sarcasm they tend to intentionally use a bitter tone that distinguishes the comment from general verbal irony. For example, in J.D. Salinger's book The Cather in the Rye, Holden leaves his boarding school and yells:

Sleep tight, ya morons! (ch 8)."

Holden does not really hope that the other students sleep tight. Instead, this line is a means of expressing his frustration that he is so different from them and is lonely. He is saying the opposite of what he means, but since it is in a judgmental way with a bitter tone, it is sarcasm, not irony.

People use verbal irony to emphasize feelings too, but not necessarily with a bitter tone or the intention to mock others. For instance, William Golding’s book The Lord of the Flies (1954) is about a group of young boys who are stuck on an island together. One of the boys, Piggy, says they are “acting like a crowd of kids!" This is an example of verbal irony because they are in fact a crowd of kids.

Sarcasm - Key takeaways

  • Sarcasm is a literary device that uses irony for ridicule or mockery.
  • People use sarcasm to express frustration and make fun of others.
  • Authors use sarcasm to develop characters and craft engaging dialogue.
  • Sarcasm is often denoted with a backward question mark or quotation marks.

  • Sarcasm is a specific type of verbal irony in which a speaker says one thing but means another in order to mock others.

Holden does not really hope that the other students sleep tight. Instead, this line is a means of expressing his frustration that he is so different from them and is lonely. He is saying the opposite of what he means, but since it is in a judgmental way with a bitter tone, it is sarcasm, not irony.

People use verbal irony to emphasize feelings too, but not necessarily with a bitter tone or the intention to mock others. For instance, William Golding’s book The Lord of the Flies (1954) is about a group of young boys who are stuck on an island together. One of the boys, Piggy, says they are “acting like a crowd of kids!"6 This is an example of verbal irony because they are in fact a crowd of kids.

Sarcasm - Key takeaways

  • Sarcasm is a literary device that uses irony for ridicule or mockery.
  • People use sarcasm to express frustration and make fun of others.
  • Authors use sarcasm to develop characters and craft engaging dialogue.
  • Sarcasm is often denoted with a backward question mark or quotation marks.

  • Sarcasm is a specific type of verbal irony in which a speaker says one thing but means another in order to mock others.

1. John Lennard, The Poetry Handbook: A Guide to Reading Poetry for Pleasure and Practical Criticism. Oxford University Press, 2005

Sarcasm

Sarcasm is a literary device in which a speaker says one thing but means another in order to ridicule or mock. 

Sarcasm is a type of verbal irony.

The opposite word of sarcasm is flattery. 

Satire and sarcasm are different because satire is the use of irony to expose important issues such as corruption. Sarcasm is a type of irony used to mock or ridicule.

Yes, sarcasm is a literary device that authors use to help their readers understand their characters and themes. 

Final Sarcasm Quiz

Question

What is sarcasm?

Show answer

Answer

Sarcasm is a literary device in which a speaker says one thing but means another in order to ridicule or mock.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a function of sarcasm?

Show answer

Answer

To flatter others. 

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a type of sarcasm?


Show answer

Answer

Endearing sarcasm.

Show question

Question

What is raging sarcasm?


Show answer

Answer

Raging sarcasm is a type of sarcasm that a speaker uses to express anger. It involves exaggeration and may make the speaker appear violent. 

Show question

Question

Which of the following is a technique to denote sarcasm in writing?

Show answer

Answer

Putting sarcastic comments in quotation marks 

Show question

Question

Identify the type of sarcasm in this situation: A football player gets kicked off the team for being a bad player and says: “Wow I am so great at football!”


Show answer

Answer

Self-Deprecating sarcasm.

Show question

Question

True or False: Writers should never use sarcasm in an academic essay.


Show answer

Answer

False. While writers should avoid using sarcasm because it is informal, it is sometimes appropriate to use sarcasm, like when crafting an engaging hook. 

Show question

Question

True or False. Authors sometimes use sarcasm to add humor to their writing.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Identify the type of sarcasm in this sentence: "That's such a nice jacket!"

Show answer

Answer

Polite sarcasm

Show question

Question

Truer or False. Sarcasm is the exact same thing as verbal irony.

Show answer

Answer

False. Sarcasm is a type of verbal irony in which a speaker says one thing but means another in order to mock. 

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Sarcasm quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.