Sarcasm is when a person says one thing but means the opposite.
How can one say something and mean the opposite?
Because meaning and intention transcend words. A big part of human communication is nonverbal.
Thus, to interpret the meaning of a message (like spoken words), you have to look at body language, facial expressions, and the context in which that message was delivered.
A person can say one thing and mean the opposite with the help of a sarcastic tone. However, not all sarcastic comments have a sarcastic tone.
In the absence of a sarcastic tone, the irony of what the sarcastic person says brings forth the sarcasm. The mismatch between what the sarcastic person said and how things really are highlights the sarcasm.
Take a look at this example from the TV show House MD:
House [talking about a patient]: “He did, however, get hit by a bullet. Just mentioning it.”
Cameron: “He was shot?”
House: “No. Someone threw a bullet at him.”
This is a good example of irony bringing forth the sarcasm. House didn’t need a facial expression or a sarcastic tone to deliver the sarcasm.
Sarcasm is used to point out:
Cameron’s comment, “He was shot?” was obvious and redundant. House said that the patient was shot. She didn’t have to repeat it and provide a fertile ground for House’s sarcasm.
Is sarcasm a personality trait?
People can be occasionally sarcastic when they find an opportunity, or they can be prone to making sarcastic comments, like House.
We call something a ‘trait’ when it’s a consistent feature of someone’s personality.
So yes, sarcasm can be a personality trait.
The more interesting question is: Is it a good or a bad trait to have?
Personality traits tend to be black and white. People either like a personality trait, or they don’t. Sarcasm is one of those rare personality traits that fall in the grey area. Some people like sarcasm and others hate it.
We’ll explore this dichotomy more by looking at the common traits of sarcastic people and how they affect others. We’ll start with the positive traits and then move on to the dark ones:
Traits of a sarcastic person
It takes a high level of intelligence to be sarcastic. You have to be quick-witted and possess strong observational skills. You have to figure out how to point out absurdity, obviousness, and redundancy.
You have to use the right tone and other nonverbals so that people don’t miss your sarcasm. That requires social intelligence. Sarcasm works best when it’s funny. That requires creativity.
Sarcastic people are admired for their intelligence and can be fun to hang around with.
Delivering sarcasm requires courage because you risk offending someone when you point out their absurdity, obviousness, and redundancy.
Hence, sarcastic people tend to be mentally strong. They have thick skin and often love it when someone responds to their sarcasm with sarcasm. It makes the conversation spicy and entertaining.
Time for the dark side.
When you point out someone’s absurdity, you’re framing them as an idiot. No one wants to feel like an idiot. So sarcasm leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of its target.
To add insult to injury, no one wants to be seen as an idiot, either. If you publicly point out someone’s absurdity, you risk offending them greatly. People care a lot about how other people see them.
Making someone look like an idiot is one of the worst ways to make someone look like anything.
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point.
While an empathetic person may notice your absurdity but not point it out publicly, a sarcastic person won’t spare you.
Research has shown that psychopathic and manipulative people are likely to have an aggressive humor style. Sarcasm is a type of aggressive humor.
Sarcastic people often feel contempt toward the idiots around them. Also, they’re insensitive.
This is a deadly combination that would make any person aggressive.
But sarcastic people are too intelligent to be direct with their aggression. So they resort to sarcasm which is passive-aggressive– an insult disguised as humor.
This way, they can call you an idiot without calling you an idiot. You may feel offended, but you can hardly do anything about it. It’s not a punch in the face.
6. Low self-worth
If sarcastic people are highly intelligent, put people down with skill, and are admired, they should have a high level of self-esteem, right?
People who’re sarcastic likely have low self-esteem. This is probably why they resort to sarcasm to boost their self-worth in the first place.
When people are constantly admired for their sarcasm, they start to identify with it. It becomes a part of who they are. Without their sarcasm, they’d be nothing.
Every time people laugh or feel humiliated by their cutting remarks, they get an ego boost.
Relying on sarcasm to boost your self-worth is not healthy or socially savvy. Make fun of the wrong person, and you can be in serious trouble.
People don’t forget how you make them feel.
To, or not to, abandon sarcasm
I’m not suggesting you abandon sarcasm altogether. Without sarcastic people, life would become boring.
If you’re a sarcastic person, you have to be aware of the risks of your personality trait. You have to know how much sarcasm to use in different situations.
If you identify as a sarcastic person, you’ll be tempted to be sarcastic with everyone, and that’s a trap.
Avoid sarcasm with people above you (like your boss) who have too much power over you.
Avoid sarcasm with sensitive people. Don’t complain they’re weak and can’t take or understand your sarcasm.
It’s a double whammy. First, you point out their idiocy, and then you call them an idiot again for not understanding your pointing out of their idiocy.
Be as sarcastic as you want with people you know won’t take your sarcasm seriously. The more we trust someone, the less we take their sarcasm personally.
They’ve made enough positive deposits in our emotional bank account to cancel out any harm their sarcasm might inflict.