Sarcasm intended

The Willy Wonka hat really sells it, I think. Image found on ArticleCats.

The Willy Wonka hat really sells it, I think.
Image found on ArticleCats.

Time and again, I’m reminded that there should be a sarcasm font readable on all tech devices. It could be the Helvetica or Times New Roman (no, not Comic Sans, please) for the snarkier of us and ensure that our written sarcastic cracks would be understood as such.

Because we’re all for people instantly understanding that we might be making fun of them.

Something like this is about right ... Image found on Pinterest.

Something like this is about right … or maybe something dripping …
Image found on Pinterest.

Alas, though there are indeed a few sarcasm fonts out there, they’re not widely understood … or supported on many tech platforms. And that’s sad, because there are an awful lot of online comment and discussion boards that could use it to prevent a lot of misunderstandings.

Sartalics are fine, but lacking oomph. And just like CapsLock, people won't use it properly. Image found on v3b.

Sartalics are fine, but lack oomph. And just like CapsLock, people won’t use them properly.
Image found on v3b.

A friend found himself in the middle of a slight kerfuffle last week after he posted a sarcastic comment on a board, which was misunderstood as being serious. Context, which was noted by another commenter, is an important element in sarcasm, and when it’s missing (which it frequently is in online interaction), it’s too easy to be taken as serious, especially among people who don’t know of the smartassery involved.

My eyes are already rolling.

In person, we also have facial expressions, body movements and vocal tone to clue us in to context; on the phone, it’s just the voice, but that’s still enough much of the time to let us know who’s just having us on. On the Internet, unless you’re on audio and/or video, no one can hear your snark (no, not the imaginary beast).

Yes, Sheldon. Yes, it was sarcasm. Image found on imgarcade.

Yes, Sheldon. Yes, it was sarcasm.
Image found on imgarcade.

Sarcasm isn’t one-size-fits-all, and from some people it pretty much always sounds bitchy (but yeah, some of that “sarcasm” is just bitchiness, so tread carefully).

Richard Chin wrote on Smithsonian.com in 2011:

“Sarcasm has a two-faced quality: it’s both funny and mean. This dual nature has led to contradictory theories on why we use it. Some language experts suggest sarcasm is used as a sort of gentler insult, a way to tone down criticism with indirectness and humor. ‘How do you keep this room so neat?’ a parent might say to a child, instead of ‘This room is a sty.’

“But other researchers have found that the mocking, smug, superior nature of sarcasm is perceived as more hurtful than a plain-spoken criticism. The Greek root for sarcasm, sarkazein, means to tear flesh like dogs.”

Some days I fear this is the last thing I'll see. Luke can be just a little cranky ...

Some days I fear this is the last thing I’ll see. Luke can be just a little cranky …

Or like really ticked-off cats. Believe me and the many Band-Aids in my trash can.

But really, those of us who regularly employ sarcasm aren’t just big meanies (well, most of us aren’t … but we are smartasses), and there are benefits to being snarky. Researchers have found it can boost creativity (and no, not just to come up with something funnier than “yo’ mama” jokes).

Nobody wants that! Image found on someecards.

And nobody wants that! They’re missing out, though …
Image found on someecards.

Harvard behavioral science professor Francesca Gino was one of the researchers on a recent study of sarcasm’s effects, and wrote of the findings in Scientific American in November, saying: “Instead of avoiding sarcasm completely in the office, the research suggests sarcasm, used with care and in moderation, can be effectively used and trigger some creative sparks.”

Gino explained:

“Because the brain must think creatively to understand or convey a sarcastic comment, sarcasm may lead to clearer and more creative thinking. To either create or understand sarcasm, tone must overcome the contradiction between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions. This is a process that activates, and is facilitated by, abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking.”

Sometimes I think Leonard should follow me around with that sign. Image found on Huffington Post.

Sometimes I think Leonard should follow me around with that sign.
Image found on Huffington Post.

Gino did note the frequent misinterpretation of sarcasm, especially in written communication. In one study cited, participants who received voice messages were able to accurately identify sarcasm or lack of it 73 percent of the time; those who received the same statements via email could only do so 56 percent of the time. Those who sent the email messages also tended to overestimate how often the sarcastic comments would be correctly identified.

Because trickle-down economics works! Image found on Return to Hades.

Because trickle-down economics works!
Image found on Return to Hades.

Not everyone understands sarcasm, some for neurological reasons including autism, frontotemporal dementia and strokes with right-side damage (thank God mine was on the left side; that’d make it hard to do this job).

And robots. Kevin Zawacki, writing in The Atlantic in January 2015, said:

“Bots’ understanding of humor is so stunted and feeble, it’s often a punchline itself. Recently, when Siri fumbled a song request, I communicated my irritation with a sarcastic barb.

“‘Siri, you’re brilliant,’ I said, deadpan.

“‘Aw, shucks,’ Siri responded earnestly. Her ignorance is just one example of the chat bots and vocal operating systems that serve as quirky distractions and indispensable digital assistants, but are sorely comedy-deficient.”

Cortana (the “assistant” in Windows 10) seems even less likely to get a joke, much less sarcasm. (Ask her who let the dogs out. You’ll be underwhelmed. Unless you like Baha Men.)

But hey, when we humans can’t always understand it, how can we expect artificial intelligence to get it?

Scott Adams, your sarcasm completes me ... Image found on Dilbert.com.

Scott Adams, your sarcasm completes me …
Image found on Dilbert.com.


Image from Arkansas College Media Association.

Image from Arkansas College Media Association.

On another note, I’d like to say a big, very un-sarcastic “thank you” to the students who put up with me on Friday at the Arkansas College Media Association conference at the University of Central Arkansas. It was great meeting and talking with all of you.

Hopefully I didn’t scare too many of you off. I’m just glad no one ran out of the room screaming, especially considering it’s been a long time since I’ve done any public speaking.

Sitting in my office behind a computer is much more my speed nowadays. And I’m fairly sure the figures in the Georges Seurat painting on my computer background won’t be psychologically damaged by my attempts at humor.

There are times this should be plastered on my forehead. Image found on Karey White.

There are times this should be plastered on my forehead.
Image found on Karey White.

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20 thoughts on “Sarcasm intended

  1. This column reminds me of the English professor lecturing that there are many examples of two negatives creating a positive but no example of two positives creating a negative. In the back of the classroom, a student mutters, “Yeah, right.”

    As I write this, I hope the sarcasm was evident, but I use so much irony and sarcasm in what I write online, I’ve taken to adding clues such as: and

    And let’s not forget emoticons for dealing with this vexing problem ;-{

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Life without sarcasm would be like a flower garden without flowers… Me

    Saw your article in the newspaper this morning and had to rush right over for the ‘art work’ kicker. I am a “user” and probably will remain so until someone gets a court order against me requiring me to go into rehab. That is of course assuming there is such a thing as a Sarcasm Rehab Clinic.

    Your suggestion of a special font for denoting sarcasm is writing is an excellent suggestion. Converting italicized text totally over to ‘sarcastic text’ would work really great for me but in the end probably equate to trying to change the current US Weights and Measurements System over to the Metric System.

    I once thought an emoticon might be in order but never could quite decide what one would look like. Would it resemble a smiley face or perhaps an evil grin? Or perhaps something more sinister like a knife stuck in a head? Anyway, finally gave up on the idea although that decision may have cost me my last opportunity to appear on ‘Shark Tank’.

    Actually the only serious incident I have incurred with my brand of sarcasm was a few years ago when a blog owner banned me from their rather benign website when one of my self-perceived sarcastic responses to one of their posts was interpreted by them as totally insulting and infuriating. And although it is a matter of little consequence, I still remain in a bit of shock over that whole matter.

    Enjoyed your article…

    Like

    • Thanks, Alan! Hope you liked the art in the printed version too; John did that specially for me Monday afternoon. 😉

      There’s a rolling-eyes emoji, but lord knows how you make it as an emoticon. Oh, the troubles of the sarcastic …

      Like

  3. The one device I’ve seen that works is ending the remark with /snark or /sarcasm. But pointing it out so literally sort of ruins it. And those unfamiliar with coding might not understand the use of the slash. I think we’re stuck with the fact that written language has limitations and we need to be aware of them when composing important written communications.

    Like

  4. My children are well versed in the sarcastic arts. I have told them, especially my daughter, to use their powers for good and not evil. One reason I love your columns and this blog is that your sarcasm is so evident and makes me wheeze laugh. I get strange looks sometimes when I’m reading the paper in public.

    My cat can be sarcastic too. When I ask him if he is hungry, I swear he says, “No, human. I like standing by my empty food bowl” (which Charlie considers to be empty if he can see the bottom).

    Like

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