Sarcasm in English
Sarcasm is pervasive in English culture, and one of my earliest schoolteachers was particularly skilled in the art. She would frequently respond to unwanted behaviour by a pupil with a sarcastically-intoned ‘thank you very much!’ At that young age, I inferred the meaning easily from the situation and tone used.
Unfortunately, I also came to believe, incorrectly, that the phrase ‘thank you very much’ was itself an expression of opprobrium. I remember quite clearly my moment of enlightenment much later when, after years of confusion, I discovered that ‘thank you very much’ could mean literally what it said.
Since then, I’ve come to employ sarcasm as my comedic weapon of choice, which is why I’ve never agreed with the saying that ‘sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.’ I always thought that that would be puns. Or, perhaps, mimes. Everyone hates mimes, right?
I stand corrected. The BBC Magazine has an amusing light piece in defence of sarcasm, which asserts:
But “they” aren’t so big and clever themselves, putting down sarcasm. For a start, surely the lowest form of wit is loud flatulence, not sarcasm. It can be a beautiful and impressive thing (sarcasm, not the other, though each to their own).
He’s right. Fart jokes are definitely lower. The author also manages to find divine support in favour of sarcasm:
It goes back as far as the Biblical prophets. When the prophets of Baal fails to call down fire from heaven in a contest with Elijah, he cries: “Pray louder! He is a god! Maybe he is daydreaming or relieving himself, or perhaps he’s gone on a journey! Or maybe he’s sleeping, and you’ve got to wake him up!”
Now, I know that the Bible has something of a mixed record as a guide to living in the modern world—it also lists as sinful acts wearing mixed fibres and eating shrimp, and suggests stoning as a form of punishment—but in this case, I can’t argue.