For the record…

To distinguish from: facetious, flippant, sardonic, snark, snarl, sneer, snide.

And bitch. Like “bitch” and “intellectual,” I think “sarcasm” is ripe for reconquest, reclaiming, reappropriative recycling, and indeed queering: take back the positive!

Sources for this minimalist bit of copy-pasting posing as research:

The footnoting in the excerpts below is a special joy. Many citations needed; many of them probably a bit tricky to track down; which ones, and where, and how their discussion has unfolded behind the scenes is all, as ever, jolly interesting. If you like footnoting, by the way, you’ll love this:


Sarcasm is “a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter jibe or taunt.” [1] Though irony and understatement is usually the immediate context,[2] most authorities distinguish sarcasm from irony;[3] however, others argue that sarcasm may or often does involve irony[4] or employs ambivalence.[5]

  1. ^Oxford English Dictionary
  2. ^ “Only people can be sarcastic, whereas situations are ironic”, notes Diana Boxer, 2002. Applying Sociolinguistics: domains and face-to-face interaction, “‘Yeah right:’ sociolinguistic functions of sarcasm in classroom discourse”, p. 100.
  3. ^ Eric Partridge, Usage and Abusage, Penguin, 1969. “Irony must not be confused with sarcasm, which is direct: sarcasm means precisely what it says, but in a sharp, caustic, … manner.”
  4. ^ H.W. Fowler, Modern English Usage, OUP, 1950. “sarcasm does not necessarily involve irony. But irony, or the use of expressions conveying different things according as they are interpreted, is so often made the vehicle of sarcasm…”; and “The essence of sarcasm is the intention of giving pain by (ironical or other) bitter words.”
  5. ^ Ambiguities in sarcasm are explored by Patricia Ann Rockwell, Sarcasm and other mixed messages: the ambiguous ways people use language (Edwin Mellen Press) 2006.

The word comes from the late Greek σαρκασμός (sarkasmos) which is taken from the word σαρκάζειν meaning ‘to tear flesh, gnash the teeth, speak bitterly’ (OED).

Usage describes the use of sarcasm thus:

In sarcasm, ridicule or mockery is used harshly, often crudely and contemptuously, for destructive purposes. It may be used in an indirect manner, and have the form of irony, as in “What a fine musician you turned out to be!” or it may be used in the form of a direct statement, “You couldn’t play one piece correctly if you had two assistants.” The distinctive quality of sarcasm is present in the spoken word and manifested chiefly by vocal intonation …[1]

Hostile, critical comments may be expressed in an ironic way, such as saying “don’t work too hard” to a lazy worker. The use of irony introduces an element of humour which may make the criticism seem more polite and less aggressive. Sarcasm can frequently be unnoticed in print form, oftentimes requiring the intonation or tone of voice to indicate the quip.[citation needed]


Understanding the subtlety of this usage requires second-order interpretation of the speaker’s intentions. This sophisticated understanding can be lacking in some people with certain forms of brain damage, dementia and autism, (although not always)[2] and this perception has been located by MRI in the right parahippocampal gyrus.[3][4]

Cultural perspectives on sarcasm vary widely with more than a few cultures and linguistic groups finding it offensive to varying degrees. Thomas Carlyle despised it: “Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it”.[5] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, recognized in it a cry of pain: Sarcasm, he said, was “usually the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.”[6] RFC 1855, a collection of guidelines for Internet communications, even includes a warning to be especially careful with it as it “may not travel well”.

Sarcasm punctuation

Main article: Irony punctuation

Though in the English language there is no standard accepted method to denote irony or sarcasm in written conversation, several forms of punctuation have been proposed. Among the oldest and frequently attested are the percontation point–furthered by Henry Denham in the 1580s—and the irony mark–furthered by Alcanter de Brahm in the 19th century. Both of these marks were represented visually by a backwards question mark (unicode U+2E2E). A more recent example is the snark mark. Each of these punctuation marks are primarily used to indicate that a sentence should be understood at a second level. A bracketed exclamation point and/or question mark as well as scare quotes are also sometimes used to express irony or sarcasm.

In certain Ethiopic languages, sarcasm and unreal phrases are indicated at the end of a sentence with a sarcasm mark called temherte slaq, a character that looks like an inverted exclamation point ¡.[17]

In an increasingly technological world, the use of sarcasm in email, text messaging, message boards and blogs has often been misunderstood as ignorance or stupidity: comments meant to be sarcastic have been taken literally or seriously. A newer trend in using sarcasm in cyberspace is to use an italic font for the proposed sarcastic remark to quell any questions as to the intent of a comment[citation needed] or to enclose the sarcastic remark in sarcasm tags as a form of pseudo-HTML such as the following:

<sarcasm>I’m sure they’ll do great.</sarcasm>[citation needed]


Percontation point

The modern question mark (? U+003F) is descended from the “punctus interrogativus” (described as “a lightning flash, striking from right to left”),[2] but unlike the modern question mark, the punctus interrogativus may be contrasted with the punctus percontativus—the former marking questions that require an answer while the latter marks rhetorical questions.[3]

This percontation point ( Irony mark full.svg ), later also referred to as a rhetorical question mark, was invented by Henry Denham in the 1580s and was used at the end of a question which does not require an answer–a rhetorical question. Its use died out in the 17th century. It was the reverse of an ordinary question mark, so that instead of the main opening pointing back into the sentence, it opened away from it.[4] This character can be represented using the reversed question mark (Irony mark full.svg) found in Unicode as U+2E2E.

Irony mark

The irony mark or irony point (؟) (French: point d’ironie) is a punctuation mark proposed by the French poet Alcanter de Brahm (alias Marcel Bernhardt) at the end of the 19th century used to indicate that a sentence should be understood at a second level (e.g. irony, sarcasm, etc.). It is illustrated by a small, elevated, backward-facing question mark.[3]

It was in turn taken by Hervé Bazin in his book Plumons l’Oiseau (“Let’s pluck the bird”, 1966), in which the author proposes several other innovative punctuation marks, such as the “doubt point” (Point de doute.svg), “certitude point” (Point de certitude.svg), “acclamation point” (Point d'acclamation.svg), “authority point” (Point d'autorité.svg), “indignation point” (Point d'indignation.svg), and “love point” (Point d'amour.svg).

History [of the question mark]

According to a 2011 discovery by a Cambridge manuscript expert, Syriac was the first language to use a question mark in the form of a vertical double dot.[2] Lynne Truss attributes an early form of the question mark to Alcuin of York.[3] Truss describes the punctus interrogativus of the late 8th century as “a lightning flash, striking from right to left”.[4] (The punctuation system of Aelius Donatus, current through the Early Middle Ages, used only simple dots at various heights.)

This earliest question mark was a decoration of one of these dots, with the “lightning flash” perhaps meant to denote intonation (or a tilde or titlo, named after the Latin word titulus, as in “ ·~ ”, like those wavy and more or less slanted marks used in lots of medieval texts for denoting various things such as abbreviations, and that would become later various diacritics or ligatures or modified letters used in the Latin script), and perhaps associated with early musical notation like neumes.[5][6] Over the next three centuries this pitch-defining element (if it ever existed) seems to have been forgotten, so that the Alcuinesque stroke-over-dot sign (with the stroke sometimes slightly curved) is often seen indifferently at the end of clauses, whether they embody a question or not.

In the early 13th century, when the growth of communities of scholars (universities) in Paris and other major cities led to an expansion and streamlining of the book-production trade,[7] punctuation was rationalised by assigning Alcuin’s stroke-over-dot specifically to interrogatives; by this time the stroke was more sharply curved and can easily be recognised as the modern question-mark.

The symbol is also sometimes[8] thought to originate from the Latin quaestiō (that is, qvaestio), meaning “question”, which was abbreviated during the Middle Ages to Qo. The uppercase Q was written above the lowercase o, and this mark was transformed into the modern symbol. However, evidence of the actual use of the Q-over-o notation in medieval manuscripts is lacking; if anything, medieval forms of the upper component seem to be evolving towards the q-shape rather than away from it.

The origin of the question mark.

A diagram showing the evolution of the question mark.

Rhetorical question mark

Main article: Irony mark

The rhetorical question mark or percontation point was invented by Henry Denham in the 1580s and was used at the end of a rhetorical question; however, its use died out in the 17th century. It was the reverse of an ordinary question mark, so that instead of the main opening pointing back into the sentence, it opened away from it.[12] This character can be represented using the reversed question mark (⸮) found in Unicode as U+2E2E. The percontation point is analogous to the Irony mark, but these are very rarely seen.

Rhetorical questions in some (informal) situations can use a bracketed question mark, e.g. “Oh, really(?)”, for example in 888 subtitles.[13]

The question mark can also be used as a meta-sign to signal uncertainty regarding what precedes. It is usually put between brackets (?). The uncertainty may concern either a superficial (such as unsure spelling) or a deeper truth (real meaning) level.


Other typography

Rhetorical questions in some informal situations can use a bracketed question mark, e.g. “Oh, really[?]”–The equivalent for an ironic or sarcastic statement would be a bracketed exclamation mark, e.g. “Oh, really[!]”. Subtitles, such as in Teletext, sometimes use an exclamation mark within brackets or parentheses to mark sarcasm: (!). Likewise, Karl Marx uses the exclamation mark within brackets repeatedly throughout Das Kapital, Volume 1. For example, in one instance, to ridicule Colonel Torrens: “The problem is in no way simplified if extraneous matters are smuggled in, as with Colonel Torrens: ‘effectual demand consists in the power and inclination [!], on the part of the consumers, to give for commodities, either by immediate or circuitous barter…'”.[6]

The question mark can also be used as a “meta” sign to signal uncertainty regarding what precedes. It is usually put between parentheses [“(?)”]. The uncertainty may concern either a superficial aspect of the text (such as unsure spelling) or a deeper level of meaning.[citation needed]

It is common in online conversation among computer specialists to use a pseudo-HTML element: <sarcasm></sarcasm>.[7][not in citation given] Many times, the opening tag is omitted, due to the HTML tagging often being an afterthought. Similarly, and common in social-news-based sites, is a single /s placed at the end of a comment to indicate a sarcastic tone for the preceding text. A “rolling eyes” emoticon is often used as well, particularly in instant messaging, while a Twitter-style hashtag, #sarcasm, is also gaining currency.

Emoticons can also be used in text, most often in informal writing, to denote sarcasm.


Am I Crazy?

I was heavily under the impression that sarcasm was simply a harsh, acidic comment meant to show disdain or give pain (if you’re sarcastic towards a situation, it probably won’t feel anything). However, the general concensus is that sarcasm is just saying the opposite of what is meant. I believe that is actually irony. While sarcasm is often associated with irony and satire, I contend that it is a very different concept and that this article is extremely misleading and probably furthers the misconceptions that many people have about the concept of sarcasm and its relationship with irony and humor.

I believe it must be derisive

I believe it does not have to be (though it can be) ironic, humorous, or satirical.


To look a girl straight in the eye and say, “That dress you’re wearing is hideous,” is a sarcastic comment. The opposite of the meaning would be that the dress is attractive, which is probably a positive thing, so it’s safe to say that the comment is not ironic. In this example, sarcasm exists where irony does not. It’s also not particularly humorous, but you could make an argument about that, I suppose.

I believe that this should be addressed. Perhaps a separate section explaining the relationship between irony and sarcasm or humor and sarcasm can be included, but it should be made clear that they are separate concepts.

I think that this should be looked into thoroughly.

-6/4/08—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:41, 5 June 2008 (UTC)

I attempted to address this some time ago (see archive), postulating about the ‘degrees’ of sarcasm, from playful to cutting, but no one (including me) seems to have the knowledge or inclination to add to the article in that kind of way. You’ll also note a few users commenting on the quality of the article… —Thaddius (talk) 15:35, 11 June 2008 (UTC)Yes, you’re crazy (you did ask for it…) 😉 From one of the citations: ‘[sarcasm is] a verbal form of irony’. Sarcasm has to be verbal (perhaps written, at a push); on the other hand, irony can be found in situations (for example). I recently read about an anti-gun activist who was stabbed to death. I found that pretty ironic, but it couldn’t be sarcastic. Also, the example you gave isn’t sarcasm, just an insult. Bridies (talk) 15:55, 11 June 2008 (UTC)

It’s only ironic if he was pro-knife. (talk) 20:50, 1 April 2011 (UTC)

  • Sarcasm means a cutting taunt, metaphorically tearing the flesh. Irony is often used for this purpose and so the two are confused. I have rewritten the lede from a good source to clarify this. Colonel Warden (talk) 15:43, 26 October 2008 (UTC)

I feel I should mention

This is my new favourite Wikpedia article.

MichaelKeefe 00:21, 15 September 2008 (UTC)

Obviously people who don’t understand Sarcasm really need wikipedia to explain it to them (talk) 14:31, 6 March 2009 (UTC)

No, really?~ Steneub (talk) 17:54, 18 July 2009 (UTC)


I have been through this article and most of it does not stand inspection – the sources are mostly dead or poor and much of the content has been tagged as OR. I shall therefore rewrite, retaining the good bits and discarding the rest. Colonel Warden (talk) 14:18, 26 October 2008 (UTC)

That’s done now. The biggest issue seems to be the “lowest form of wit” crack. This was attributed to Wilde in the previous version but this attribution doesn’t stand up. Any definite attribution will require an excellent source because the phrase has been passed around so much that its true source now seems obscure. Colonel Warden (talk) 15:40, 26 October 2008 (UTC)

Is Gulliver’s Travels considered Sarcasm, or merely Satire and Parody? Do the defintions and usage provide an answer to such a question? Perhaps there are scholars who have asked answered such a question. —Firefly322 (talk) 16:00, 26 October 2008 (UTC)

No doubt there’s some sarcasm in there but I know it more for its satire on the current affairs of the time. We must be careful in starting to list examples as they may become a laundry list of modern examples such as Blackadder. To maintain a scholarly tone, I would prefer classical examples such as Socrates and the biblical examples mentioned above. Colonel Warden (talk) 16:13, 26 October 2008 (UTC)

Is it appropriate to “maintain a scholarly tone”? Would it not be an achievement to create a explanation of Sarcasm that is itself an example of the subject it is explaining? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:37, 6 March 2009 (UTC)

I notice that you give a criticism of the quote by Wilde, but you keep it in your own edit anyway. I don’t understand why you would do this. Are you questioning the remark on the full quote being “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence”? Also, what was wrong with the examples of sarcasm that were included in the previous version? As long the examples can be considered sarcastic, they can be used without a reference. I need a clarification regarding their removal.Dburak (talk) 00:38, 27 October 2008 (UTC)

  • I have kept that which can be supported by good sources. I looked hard for sources for the quote you give but could not find one which seemed adequate. Colonel Warden (talk) 23:04, 27 October 2008 (UTC)
  • I removed the alleged Wilde quote. I was going to change it to: “A phrase apocryphally attributed to Oscar Wilde is that “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”, although a variant is that “Sarcasm is the lowest form of humour, but the highest form of wit”.” but I really couldn’t find good sources for this. Fences&Windows 18:22, 24 June 2009 (UTC)

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