SAR-CA-SM

I love a good zinger. The ability to appreciate and produce sarcasm is embedded deep in my bones. It’s a gift bestowed on me by both of my parents and numerous relatives. I admire the way sarcasm can sum up a situation, point out absurdity, and make me think.

“Sarcasm,” says the dictionary, is “the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny.” I think the “to be funny” part should be first, because that’s how I use it, I’m pretty sure. Far be it from me to show irritation or to insult someone. At least not intentionally. Well, usually. Am I being sarcastic?

If I am, I’m in good company. Consider these shining examples, culled from my research on the internet:

“Oh, I’m sorry. Did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?” (Should only be directed at someone who repeatedly interrupts you)

Member of Parliament to Winston Churchill:
“Mr. Churchill, must you fall asleep while I’m speaking?”
Mr. Churchill: “No. It’s purely voluntary.” (All’s fair in politics)

Chef to contestant at cooking competition:
“This lamb is so undercooked it’s following Mary to school.” (Ouch)

Here’s one of my own. When our church body was in the process of designing and building a new worship space, my husband, the Executive Pastor, was involved in the project up to his ear lobes. He attended meeting after meeting, held always at night, and always lasting at least three hours. One evening he left the house at 6:15 and returned at 11. Seriously. I was not feeling charitable or supportive at 11 pm. So instead of being met by a kind and charming wife, my husband was met with a zinger: “Good grief! Is the building all built? You were there long enough to get it done.”

He was not amused. I guess nothing is funny after a fifteen-hour day. Particularly a wife who is annoyed at you and your fifteen-hour day. There might have been some irritation in that zinger. At least it was better than “Excuse me, do we know each other? I feel like we met somewhere a long time ago.” That’s a pretty good one, though. I’ll have to use it sometime.

I love words and ideas, so I admire the ability to make a valid point with sarcasm. Mild sarcasm can be a healthy way to let off steam that might otherwise build up into an eruption. Used judiciously and well, it lends sparkle to life.

Jesus used sarcasm often when dealing with self-righteous, unloving religious leaders. He told them, in a lengthy diatribe in Matthew 23, “You look so good on the outside, like whitewashed tombs. But like the inside of a grave you are full of the dead bones of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Now there’s a zinger. It’s masterful.

But we are not Jesus. Let’s face it, our sarcasm is often barely-veiled anger, impatience, or even contempt. Like when you’re sitting at the dinner table holding out a pitcher of iced tea to your husband, and he’s gazing absentmindedly out the window, and you say, “Would you take this please? I’m not holding it for my health.” That’s just impatience, masquerading as a witty comment.

Sarcasm can be a way of avoiding a conversation you ought to be having with someone, a way to slide past the issues you’re afraid to bring up directly. You say something funny that has a tiny barb on the end of it, and you shut down what could have been an honest airing of grievances and feelings.

If sarcasm is the only way you communicate in a relationship, you need to stop and think about what’s going on underneath your sharp comments. Know that constant sarcasm will hurt those you love and could eventually drive them away.

Words of wisdom from Proverbs: “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint” (17:27). That includes restraining yourself from using sarcasm in the wrong situation. It’s simply not worth it to be so in love with your own wittiness that you risk hurting someone.

Sarcasm. It’s here to stay. It’s a tool that can hurt or help. I want mine to help.

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