Definition and Examples of Sarcasm

Danny Pudi as Abed in "Community"

Michael Kovac/Getty Images

Sarcasm is a mocking, often ironic or satirical remark, sometimes intended to wound as well as amuse. Adjective: sarcastic. A person adept at using sarcasm is sarcastic. Also known in rhetoric as sarcasm and the bitter taunt.

"Sarcasm," says John Haiman, " is a particularly transparent variety of 'cheap talk' or hot air insofar as the speaker is overtly meaning (and saying) the opposite of what he or she ostensibly claims to be saying" (Talk Is Cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation, and the Evolution of Language, 1998).

Pronunciation: sar-KAZ-um

​​​Etymology: From the Greek, "bite the lips in rage"

Examples and Observations

  • "Oh, a sarcasm detector. That’s a really useful invention!"
    (Comic Book Guy, The Simpsons
  • "'Oh, Lou,' my mother would whine, dressed for a cocktail party in her muted, earth-tone caftan. 'You're not going to wear that, are you?'
    "'What's wrong with this?' he'd ask. 'These pants are brand-new.'
    "'New to you,' she'd say. 'Pimps and circus clowns have been dressing that way for years.'"
    (David Sedaris, "The Women's Open." Naked. Little, Brown and Company, 1997
  • Dr. House: So you're treating professional sports injuries now?
    Oh, no, I'm not . . .
    Dr. House:
    . . . familiar with the concept of sarcasm. Don't sweat it, it's new.
    ("Dying Changes Everything," House, M.D.
  • Abed: Another muffin basket, from another actress who wants to be in my next film.
    Does that work?
    Yep. Meryl Streep has two Oscars because of her baking. Ah, that's sarcasm, but I forgot to inflect. This sounds way more like sarcasm. Inflection is so interesting.
    [Abed should have said intonation, not inflection.]
    (Danny Pudi as Abed and Joel McHale as Jeff in "Communication Studies." Community, Feb. 11, 2010
  • "Neither irony or sarcasm is argument."
    (Samuel Butler)
  • "First, situations may be ironic, but only people can be sarcastic. Second, people may be unintentionally ironic, but sarcasm requires intention. What is essential to sarcasm is that it is overt irony intentionally used by the speaker as a form of verbal aggression."
    (John Haiman, Talk Is Cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation, and the Evolution of Language. Oxford University Press, 1998

Irony and Sarcasm

"Classical rhetoricians admired irony as a rhetorical device primarily because of its ability to engage the audience's interest. . . .
"However, as Aristotle pointed out, irony frequently 'implies contempt' for its target and therefore it must be used carefully. Moreover, while Aristotle observed that irony 'befit[s] a gentleman,' he warns that to be most effective, '[t]he jests of the ironical man [should be] at his own expense,' not at the expense of others. . . .
"For example, when [Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia accuses] the Court of misleadingly describing its previous sex-classification cases, Scalia's sarcasm is patent:

The wonderful thing about these statements is that they are not actually false--just as it would not be actually false to say that 'our cases have thus far reserved the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of proof for criminal cases,' or that 'we have not equated tort actions, for all purposes to criminal prosecutions.'

He is equally sarcastic elsewhere."
(Michael H. Frost, Introduction to Classical Legal Rhetoric: A Lost Heritage. Ashgate, 2005)

  • "Contrary to frequent usage, irony, the device, does not always communicate sarcasm, the effect. The speaker or author's rhetorical goal may be anything from gentle humor, intended to produce a mutual laugh and so establish rapport between speaker and hearer, to corrosive derision meant to insult the audience or reduce a target to a smoking ruin. What is attempted or achieved (the speech act or illocutionary dimension of the utterance) depends, as always, on the variables of the rhetorical situation, and on how the device and its detection contribute to those variables."
    (Jeanne Fahnestock, Rhetorical Style: The Uses of Language in Persuasion. Oxford Univ. Press, 2011)
  • "Let it be first provided that this figure (sarcasmus) be not used without some great cause which may well deserve it, as arrogancie, insolent pride, wilfull folly, shamefull lecherie, ridiculous avarice, or such like, for it is both folly and rudenesse to use derision without cause: but to mocke silly people, innocents, or men in misery, or the poore in distresse, argueth both the pride of the mind, and the crueltie of the heart."
    (Henry Peachum, The Garden of Eloquence, 1593)
  • Adrian Monk: This is my assistant, Sharona.
    Ambrose Monk:
    Hello, we spoke on the phone.
    Adrian Monk:
    Oh, so you can dial a telephone! I was worried. I thought you might be paralyzed, or something.
    Ambrose Monk:
    I wasn't paralyzed.
    Adrian Monk:
    I was being sarcastic.
    Ambrose Monk:
    You were being sardonic. Sarcasm is a contemptuous ironic statement. You were being mockingly derisive. That's sardonic.
    (Tony Shalhoub and John Turturro in "Mr. Monk and the Three Pies." Monk, 2004)
  • "Whatever the reason, I was saddled with this strange name, which meant that I was constantly, constantly, being serenaded with the sometimes you feel like a nut Almond Joy/Mounds jingle, which I would have liked to quote in full, except that Hershey's legal staff denied me permission. I can certainly understand why. God only knows what ruin might befall Hershey's if this jingle--which hasn't been used in two decades--were suddenly brazenly resurrected by a young Jewish candy freak. One shudders to consider the fallout for the entire fragile candy-trademark-jingle trademark ecosystem."
    (Steve Almond, Candyfreak, 2004)
  • "Sarcasm is related to our ability to understand other people's mental state. It is not just a linguistic form; it is also related to social cognition."
    (Dr. Shannon-Tsoory, qtd. by David Adam, "Highest Brain Areas Spot Lowest Form of Wit." The Guardian, June 2, 2005)
  • "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."
    (Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, 1833-34)

The Lighter Side of Sarcasm

Teen 1: Oh, here comes that cannonball guy. He's cool.
Teen 2: Are you being sarcastic, dude?
Teen 1: I don't even know anymore.
"Homerpalooza," The Simpsons)

Leonard: You convinced me. Maybe tonight we should sneak in and shampoo her carpet.
Sheldon: You don't think that crosses the line?
Leonard: Yes. For God's sake, Sheldon, do I have to hold up a sarcasm sign every time I open my mouth?
Sheldon: You have a sarcasm sign?
(Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons in "The Big Bran Hypothesis." The Big Bang Theory, 2007)
Leonard: Hey, Penny. How's work?
Penny: Great! I hope I'm a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory for my whole life!
Sheldon: Was that sarcasm?
Penny: No.
Sheldon: Was that sarcasm?
Penny: Yes.
Sheldon: Was that sarcasm?
Leonard: Stop it!
(Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, and Jim Parsons in "The Financial Permeability." The Big Bang Theory, 2009)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Sarcasm." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Definition and Examples of Sarcasm. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Sarcasm." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).