The Sarcasm Font

Posted by Andy Charnstrom on

I’ve noticed, lately, an uptick in the injection of sarcastic remarks into dialogue on serious matters in our country.  Actually, more than an uptick—more like a flood.  How unfortunate!  

What is sarcasm?  My online dictionary (via a Google search) defines sarcasm as, “the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.”  As synonyms include: derision, mockery, ridicule, scorn, sneering and taunting.

In the hands of a humorist, sarcasm can be quite entertaining; sarcasm is a staple of most stand-up comedy these days.  However, in serious controversies, such as the debate over the current government shutdown and the disagreement over whether to spend tax dollars to build a dividing wall between the United States and Mexico, sarcasm has no constructive purpose.  Sarcasm appears to reflect a sense of fear on the part of the speaker that his/her argument is weak, rather than a sense of confidence in its strength -- a quick diversion from the facts rather than doubling-down on the rational concerns of either side in that discussion.

Winston Churchill was one of the few, masterful, debaters who could employ sarcasm to positive effect.  Many will remember his discourse with Lady Nancy Astor in which she remarked that, if Churchill were her husband, she would poison his tea; his response was at least as sharp: “If I were your husband, I would drink it.”  However, if one reads Churchill’s story, one quickly discovers that this was Churchill at his weakest, and not at full strength.  Even Churchill, it seems, understood that sarcasm is, at its best, is a mere deflection -- a poor substitute for articulate discussion of one’s position and another’s disagreement.

So much communication today flows from our impersonal keyboards; type a few strokes, hit “send”, and see who responds.  Unfortunately, there is little chance of controlling who receives and reads what is written, and any nuances, tone or, perhaps, even humor is bleached from the colorful remark.  I have jokingly suggested, in the past, the installation of a “sarcasm font” in our software.

A better approach, even, than the sarcasm font would be the reservation of sarcasm for the humorous, or that which is shared privately among only those who would “get it.” 

The serious issues of our time deserve our most sincere voices and demand our most well-considered dialogue.  Happily, I can report that sincerity requires no special font, but only our commitment to offer and receive opinions and disagreement thoughtfully. 

We can do all better.  Let's start today!

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