— Alaina Anne (@alaina_bates) August 18, 2014
Why sarcasm gets a bad rap
We already know that sarcasm can make you smarter, but if you’re sensitive, you might still find it a little abrasive. After all, Merriam-Webster does describe sarcasm as “a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain.” A simple example of sarcasm, in which you generally say the opposite of the truth to poke fun at it, would be to respond to a very obvious comment with “You don’t say,” or “Because THAT’S never happened before.”
Is it kind of mean? It can be. “The biggest misconception about sarcasm is that it is viewed as being low or base humor,” explains Lawrence Dorfman, co-author of The Sarcasm Handbook. “This is due to its inherent predatory nature. It appears to have no other purpose but to find humor in the put down, the insult, the embarrassment. Laughter is sought at the expense of one’s deficiencies and shortcomings. Many believe that at its worst, sarcasm is painfully cruel; at its best, it is unnecessarily unbecoming,” he explains. Here are the conversation starters that open on the right note—and you can get to the sarcasm later.
Sarcasm is a higher level of humor
If your super-sensitive sister-in-law is once again bugging your brother for you to tone it down at the family BBQ, Dorfman explains that in addition to breaking the silence when your uncle’s had a bit too much to drink, sarcasm poses numerous intellectual and interpersonal perks. It’s also just an interesting angle from which to approach life. “Sarcasm has a much higher calling in the art and science of humor,” he says. “It is the very fact that this critical sarcastic eye often pulls back the curtain of pretense to repeatedly expose that the emperor has no clothes. True sarcasm finds the truth, and gets a good laugh from it. It is not simply a path to comedy, it is a calling of greater responsibility,” he explains. Here are the sarcastic jokes that heal vs. the ones that harm.
Sarcasm elicits confessions
When someone asks you what you do for a living, you probably have a 10-second elevator pitch that describes your skill set before your new friend has a chance to sip their drink. But what about when this pal throws off your pre-planned response and asks something a bit prodding and well, sarcastic? Dorfman explains that a well-timed, sarcastic quip can prompt people to respond differently—even to think differently. Maybe this cutting line of questioning about your professional life will inspire you to confess that you’re actually burnt out at work and it’s time to look for something more fulfilling. Or, that what you do can be summed up in a simple, funny way. For example, someone who has a hard-to-explain position at an alcohol distributing company may just say: “Basically I sell beer.”
Sarcasm makes your brain work harder
When you’re battling with a sarcasm pro, especially in moments of great stress or difficulty, a study found that your brain actually goes in overtime. Researchers studied students in Israel as they answered customer service inquiries for a cell phone company. Here’s where they found a big difference between the slightly humorous edge of sarcasm and the brutal, unforgiving nature of anger. When speaking with a client who had a less-than-stellar attitude but approached the situation sarcastically, the students problem-solved faster and weren’t as anxious, causing them to work harder.
Sarcasm can make you a better friend
Psychologist Nikki Martinez, PsyD, LCPC, says that while sarcastic folks might sometimes be considered less heartfelt, their brutally honest and blunt nature actually makes them less combative. And in friendships, they also say exactly what they think, so the guesswork isn’t left to passive-aggressive chats. “Sarcasm gives us a less confrontational way to tell someone what we think, that is more palatable to them,” Dr. Martinez says. “Someone with good insight will know there is truth in what we said, while someone with a big ego will just assume that we were joking.” If those big egos get to be too much, here’s how to break up with toxic friends.
— Danielle Rivas (@kerrigwen00) October 7, 2014
Sarcasm can be sexy
When people are looking for potential mates, most are seeking someone who can make them laugh, ease their stress levels, and keep them smiling (even when their mountain of responsibilities is reaching Everest proportions). Dorfman explains that the smart, clever seduction of sarcasm makes dating not only more enjoyable, but more successful. Instead of the traditional (well-meaning!) gifts and gestures like candy, flowers, and candle-lit dinners, being able to master the art of witty banter is fun and alluring. Here are more things scientifically proven to make you more attractive.
Sarcasm feels familiar
You may be more sarcastic than you think without ever knowing it. Yeah, right? Right. At least that’s the case according to a study conducted at the University of Southern California. Researchers analyzed phone conversations and found that since the 21st century, when sarcasm became more widely accepted, modern discussions now almost always have an air of humor. Examples include the common phrases, “Yeah, right,” “Big deal,” and “Aren’t you special?” In fact, Smithsonian quoted John Haiman, a linguist at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota as saying that sarcasm is so easily used without a second thought that it’s becoming our “primary” language.
— Jonny B Good (@Matchbox_RW) August 13, 2015
Sarcasm makes you the life of a party
Do you often get invited as a plus-one when your friend can’t find a wedding date? Or asked to tag along to an important fancy dinner when your boss is trying to wine and dine a new client? Or does your brother drag you out each and every single time he wants to impress a girl because you’re a cool wingman? Dorfman says sarcastic people make for the best dates because they bring the special sauce that’s often missing from gatherings—humor! “We’ve all been there. A dinner with too many guests and not enough of the good food. Sure, there’s always enough of ambrosia and three-bean salad, but not the really good stuff,” he says. “A deftly placed ‘You’re not going to eat that, are you?’ articulated just as their fork begins its journey from dinner plate to serving platter, will always result in a hasty retreat and a good laugh.”
Sarcasm helps you win arguments
Being sarcastic and being competitive may go hand in hand. At least according to Dorfman. He explains that getting in the last word is an easy feat when you use sarcasm as your primary tool. “Sarcasm takes from your opponent any opportunity to respond with simple reason or purpose. It exposes motive and weakness. If they cannot deflect the effectiveness of your perceptive wit, they are left to quietly assess their inadequate arguments and shrink away from your opinion,” he says. Here’s how to win an argument with someone who’s “always right.”
Sarcasm boosts creativity for everyone
A recent study conducted by a Harvard professor looked into what exactly happens when a sarcastic person presents themselves in a conversation, through friendship and in other areas of life. Not only interested in what happens with the jokester, but his or her company, the study found that those funny—and often, snarky—remarks actually boost and encourage creativity in both the giver and the receiver. We can all learn from these habits of highly creative people.