Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Thoughts on Sarcasm

About a month ago, I was teaching the Middle Schoolers at church how to have a quiet time. We were reading through the Proverb of the day and it contained so much that is pertinent to their lives. But, one part of the chapter struck me. Verses 17-28

New American Standard Version
17Like one who takes a dog by the ears Is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.
18Like a madman who throws Firebrands, arrows and death,
19So is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, "Was I not joking?"
20For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.
21Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife.
22The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.
23Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross Are burning lips and a wicked heart.
24He who hates disguises it with his lips, But he lays up deceit in his heart.
25When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart.
26Though his hatred covers itself with guile, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.
27He who digs a pit will fall into it, And he who rolls a stone, it will come back on him.
28A lying tongue hates those it crushes, And a flattering mouth works ruin.

The Message Version
17 You grab a mad dog by the ears when you butt into a quarrel that's none of your business.
18-19 People who shrug off deliberate deceptions, saying, "I didn't mean it, I was only joking," Are worse than careless campers who walk away from smoldering campfires.
20 When you run out of wood, the fire goes out; when the gossip ends, the quarrel dies down.
21 A quarrelsome person in a dispute is like kerosene thrown on a fire.
22 Listening to gossip is like eating cheap candy; do you want junk like that in your belly?
23 Smooth talk from an evil heart is like glaze on cracked pottery.
24-26 Your enemy shakes hands and greets you like an old friend,
all the while conniving against you. When he speaks warmly to you, don't believe him for a minute; he's just waiting for the chance to rip you off. No matter how cunningly he conceals his malice, eventually his evil will be exposed in public.
27 Malice backfires; spite boomerangs.
28 Liars hate their victims; flatterers sabotage trust.

The first part of that passage is what struck me the hardest (Although the rest about gossip and insincere friends is fantastic advice as well) . “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, “was I not joking?”. In the last year, I had to deal with someone who epitomized this passage. I had never come across such a stark example of it until then. This person would say something really hurtful, but then say they were only joking when they realized it wasn’t received well. The problem was that it was clear that they weren’t joking, but had intended to hurt.

The first word I thought of when I read that verse was “sarcasm”. It has proliferated our society to the point where it’s hard to distinguish it as something undesirable. But, sarcasm, in it’s pure form is hurtful and should not be pervasive in the life of a Christian. I struggle with that statement a little bit, because I’ve always considered myself and my family to be sarcastic. We banter back and forth and pick on each other from time to time. I’ve loved it! And, today I think I discovered the difference. The bantering and picking in my family has never been intentionally hurtful. Sometimes feelings have gotten hurt, or people are more harsh than they intend. But, for the most part, the dialogue is always in the spirit of love and fun. So, how does this fit with the idea of sarcasm?

Well, I decided that the best place to start would be to look at the definition of the word. So, I headed over to and looked it up. Unabridged
sarcasm  –noun
1. harsh or bitter derision or irony.
2. a sharply ironical taunt; sneering or cutting remark: a review full of sarcasms.

—Synonyms 1. sardonicism, bitterness, ridicule. See IRONY1. 2. jeer. Unabridged (v 1.0.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
American Heritage Dictionary - Cite This Source new!
sar•casm (sär k z m) Pronunciation Key
1. A cutting, often ironic remark intended to wound.
2. A form of wit that is marked by the use of sarcastic language and is intended to make its victim the butt of contempt or ridicule.
3. The use of sarcasm. See Synonyms at wit1.

I quickly decided that those definitions did not fit the experience I have had with my family. And I felt a sharp reaction to those words. Sarcasm is intentional meanness. “A cutting, often ironic remark, intended to wound”. It is something painful and harmful. I know that there have been times where I have been sarcastic and intentionally wounded people. That grieves me. I hate that there is that part of my nature. I can be extremely critical and sardonic if I am not careful and watch myself.

What I don’t understand is people who are sarcastic and are proud of it. I know people who enjoy sarcasm as though it were a fine art. They take pride in it. They tell others “this is just who I am…deal with it”. Yet, these same people call themselves Christians. No wonder the world is so confused. We say we’re the messengers of light in the world, yet we walk around intentionally wounding those around us. We are to be the Body of Christ, yet we take pride in the slaying of someone’s spirit through harsh words and cut downs.

I looked even deeper into the word by looking up it’s synonyms.

Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus -

Main Entry: sarcasm
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: mock
Synonyms: acrimony, aspersion, banter, bitterness, burlesque, causticness, censure, comeback, contempt, corrosiveness, criticism, cut*, cynicism, derision, dig*, disparagement, flouting, invective, irony, lampooning, mockery, mordancy, put-down*, raillery, rancor, ridicule, satire, scoffing, scorn, sharpness, sneering, superciliousness, wisecrack

Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.3.1)
Copyright © 2006 by Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. All rights reserved.
* = informal or slang

So, it would seem that sarcasm is born out of bitterness. It is harsh like acid and just as corrosive. It is intended to shame, mock, humiliate, and harm it’s victim. These are not things that I want to mark my life. I have a long way to go, but I hope that each day brings new fruit of the Spirit to show that I am pursuing Him and weeding out the garbage.

My challenge to myself today is to be aware of my words. To know that they carry weight and can harm the hearer. So often I speak without thinking. And, sadly, I have wounded those I love. I am resolving to speak lovingly to those around me and not allow the shift from wittiness and playful banter to sarcasm to occur. I want my words and actions to be further proof that the Lord is sanctifying and refining my heart. And I do not want to add to the woundedness of another in an already fallen world.


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