What's in a Word | All Blogs

Zits: Biting words

By Debra Dobbins

Jeremy’s feisty, fed-up mom can chalk up yet another developmental milestone for her son. He now understands sarcasm.

Webster’s says that sarcasm comes from a Greek word that meant “to tear flesh like dogs, speak bitterly.”

In training to become a teacher, I learned not to use sarcasm with children. First and foremost, sarcasm teeters on the edge of rudeness or downright cruelty. Second, experts in child development say that children do not have sufficient language skills to recognize a speaker’s intent behind his or her words.

The ability to understand sarcasm must click on with the onset of teen hormones, because adolescents not only understand it, they often use this form of verbal jousting to great effect. Luckily for Jeremy, his mom knows how to lob back one-liners. Through her loving rebukes, he will probably learn when the use of sarcasm is OK and when it is not.

Webster’s gives some synonyms of the adjective sarcastic that are worth knowing:

Caustic  –   “implies a cutting, biting, or stinging wit or sarcasm [a caustic tongue]”

Sardonic  – “implies sneering or mocking bitterness in a person, or, more often, in his expression, remarks, etc. [a sardonic smile]”

Satirical  –   “implies as its purpose the exposing or the attacking of the vices, follies, stupidities, etc. of others and connotes the use of ridicule, sarcasm”

According to Wikipedia, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift as an example of a satirical novel. Swift, an Irish author in the early 1700s, satirized human nature and also took a few jabs at the English court of King George I.

NBC’s Saturday Night Live is one modern-day answer to Gulliver’s Travels. Since 1975, its satirical comedy sketches have skewered politicians, the rich and/or the (in)famous. It’s a popular show for adolescents of all ages. Perhaps SNL should get at least part credit when teens such as Jeremy become experts in sarcasm.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia


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