I feel like I’ve heard discussion on a couple of podcasts the confusion of meanings between works like “irony” and “sarcasm” and “facetious.”
Word origin for “sarcasm” is about flesh tearing, which I think Jake Triplett mentioned in one of the Ghostrunner’s podcast episodes which got me thinking about this. It ties in with modern Brits discussing (seemingly constantly) Americans allegedly not understanding sarcasm and me not liking what passes for modern British humor yet adoring the classic humor (more on that in a minute) as well as thinking about how my family and our broader circle talks.
I know it’s not linguistically sound to hold onto language to concretely. The Wired language guy even discusses the use of “irony” here.Sarcasm
- Oxford Learner’s Dictionary “a way of using words that are the opposite of what you mean in order to be unpleasant to somebody or to make fun of them”
- Merriam Webster “a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain” or “a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual”
- Cambridge Dictionary “the use of remarks that clearly mean the opposite of what they say, made in order to hurt someone’s feelings or to criticize something in a humorous way”
All of the definitions point out the intent to hurt in sarcasm. Whenever I’ve thought about sarcasm and Brits saying we don’t know it, I always thought, well we do, we just it as weapon as an ax (as opposed to a rapier wit), and always as a weapon. Now, I know that that IS what it is, it’s mainly as a weapon.
I’ve thought that some of what passes for “British humor” now is Brits trying to pass spite and/or insecurity off as humor and that the connotation of British humor is them resting on “long dead laurels” (I don’t know where I heard that phrase or to what it was even applied, but it is SO apt here). I never thought the classics stuff was mean-spirited, there was of course plenty of poking fun, but it was intrinsically witty while the impression I get of a lot of modern stuff is intrinsically petty and mean. I think looking up the definitions made things clearer. Modern Brits seem to call sarcasm humor and their humor sarcastic, but classic British humor had more than that and sarcasm was more honed and specific.Facetious
- Oxford Learner’s “trying to appear funny and clever at a time when other people do not think it is appropriate, and when it would be better to be serious” Synonym is “flippant.”
- Merriam-Webster “joking or jesting often inappropriately” or “meant to be humorous or funny : not serious”
- Cambridge “not serious about a serious subject, in an attempt to be funny or to appear clever” Synonym is tongue-in-cheek.
These are all vaguer definitions than I thought. I was thinking facetious was the opposite meaning humor and insincere statements without the weaponization, like the connotation I have of “tongue-in-cheek.” But then I’m probably expecting to much rigidity in language.
- Oxford Learner’s “not intended seriously; done or said as a joke”
- Merriam-Webster “characterized by insincerity, irony, or whimsical exaggeration”
- Cambridge “If you say something tongue in cheek, you intend it to be understood as a joke, although you might appear to be serious”
The Merriam-Webster definition is definitely more the connotation I have of “facetious” and “tongue-in-cheek.”Irony
- Oxford Learner’s “the funny or strange aspect of a situation that is very different from what you expect; a situation like this” while Ironically “in a way that shows that you really mean the opposite of what you are saying”
- Merriam-Webster “the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning” and “a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony” OR “incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result”
- Cambridge “a situation in which something which was intended to have a particular result has the opposite or a very different result” while Ironically “in a way that is interesting, strange, or funny because of being very different from what you would expect” and “in a way that suggests you mean the opposite of what you are saying, or are not serious”
It seems like “ironically” maybe is a modern sort of definition creep. I think these definitions match what I think of as “facetious” and “tongue-in-cheek.” It looks like Merriam-Webster moved that type of humor to irony rather than only have situational irony under the definition.Sardonic
- Oxford Learner’s “showing that you think that you are better than other people and do not take them seriously.” Synonym is mocking.
- Merriam-Webster “disdainfully or skeptically humorous : derisively mocking”
- Cambridge “humorous in an unkind way that shows you do not respect someone or something”
I was thinking sardonic was closer to sarcasm that it actually is, I mean I guess sarcasm IS sardonic, like a type of sardonic comment but they aren’t interchangeable. Sardonic is just a broad category.
So there is clearly a spectrum of humor ranging from intending to hurt with sarcasm to the milder/not necessarily mean irony/facetiousness/tongue-in-cheek banter. I think that my circle has both. And I think when people use sarcasm we often try to pass it off as banter when it really is not. This explains a lot of hurt feelings and communication problems in my family. It also explains why often modern British “humor” raises my hackles while I positively adore the classic stuff particularly à la Sayers and Trollope. Actually, this kind of humor is present in Montgomery (it also explains why Anne hates sarcasm but uses lots of ironical humor) and Alcott and some modern American middle grades. It’s the American Classics that seem to be entirely devoid of humor, even often the cruel kind. And that topic will be featured in another post.
As far as modern Americans not understanding sarcasm and or tongue-in-cheek humor, we do, I think perhaps it has more to do with missing the British deadpan delivery. And no, no more definitions, I’m exhausted with that now, that one I think is fairly obvious.
I feel like I’ve linked all the Wired videos this guy has done. I wish he had his own channel with videos on all the different accents. It’s just so fascinating and lovely listening to an expert, everything I’d heard/read before was from the perspective of casual observer.
Anyone notice in older tv shows and maybe also movies, actors were allowed to keep their regional accent? I just noticed that last year when watching Monk and listening to Sharona’s strong Boston accent. And later hearing the accents in Clueless. You can tell when accents are real vs. oh, I don’t know maybe Daniel Craig’s awful accent in Knives Out.
I feel like now, everyone’s accent is “polished” out (Well, not Tommy Lee Jones, but then he is of the older generation of actors wait, those Texas actors in Supernatural still sound Texan too, I guess you can’t streamline Texans), actually everyone’s enunciated is polished out too, maybe because they don’t really hire people from the areas they are portraying. Are we all going to eventually sound Standard American, whatever that is? I hope not. How boring.
Midwest Translation. I found this on Fernway’s Call blog. This is very specific to the upper Midwest, and I didn’t even know this accent existed until the last few years (and it really can be that strong although he’s obviously exaggerating his own personally; I, um, thought someone at one of my jobs was from the Northeast, don’t kill me, turns out he was from Minnesota, both are super nasally).
By midwest, I was usually thinking Ohio Valley-Missouri and the flyover states. Needless, to say any Midwesterner I hear sounds NOTHING like that, it’s going to be “neutral,” country, or southern. I think the real American “neutral” (what newscasters are/were trained in) is the Salt Lake city/Utah area accent (per my favorite Albion’s Seed).
Canadian accents can have a slight resemblance to the upper Midwest accent. Also, I felt like more of this type of thing could’ve showed through on That 70’s Show! That would have made it much more authentic, so would’ve hiring people from that area. I mean a few people had a performed accent, but I mean, I wanted more regional stuff, just day to day differences. I feel like they thought adding in beer all the time was Wisconsin enough.
Do you ever do intentional nonsense words and names and intentionally misused phrases in your family, just for the heck of it? Or does that not boat your float? I should keep a list of our nonsense words and nicknames. Rubicon instead of Becky, Balibbalubalah instead of Lizzie. My brother was Buddy boy, Sonny Boy, and Bunny Soy.
I think it goes along with our need to rhyme every baby talk name, thus far for our pets (which I wrote about at the end of this post, we have more now, Luna is usually Loony or Loony-tunes or Luners and Holly is also Hollikins), but since pets and kiddos get the same voice. . .
I can’t do this for my niece’s name, nothing works right. All my kids must have sing-song Southern names of the Sally May, Billy Bob variety (okay, more high-falutin, than that) so I can rhyme them sillier. Anywho.
Speaking of baby-talk voices for pets. So not everyone gets a high cartoony voice instantly upon seeing some delightful fuzzball?
And what about “polite” voices?
I was on some internet video about how Europeans think of Americans, and one comment mentioned how high American girls’ voices get when greeting someone, and another hilarious commenter said something, like,
‘ “Oh, hiiiiiii!!!” Glass breaks.’
So, it’s not just me that gets a Barbie doll voice on the phone when I “have to be polite”?
And we used goofy, made up swear and names-calling words, like “what the Hufflepuff” and “you dingbat.”
And when people are pretending to be subtle and rude in a way that they also want you to know they are not being subtle, we call it suBtle, pronouncing the “b.” Although, quite frankly, that is the only “subtlety” I usually come across.
Transitioning suBtlety into snark, last Christmas some of our extended family were roasting some of my siblings (giving out “burns” is another family trait), and they were talking about how this is how we roll, you gotta be able to take it, we prepare you for the real world.
I did struggle with sarcasm and being too literal as a teenager, actually, compared to most of my family I probably still do, but between family, our social circle, and British lit, I had to learn to survive, hence, I’ve never understood, the “Americans don’t understand sarcasm.”
Oh, we understand it all right, it is just usually a different dialect, the dripping-with-sarcasm rather than dead-pan (we are way to0 expressive for that ) or axe rather than rapier sarcasm.
The slow driving when there is a little rain. Yeah, that is me. When a few snowflakes caused the car to eject him, oh my word. We aren’t this far south, but I remember people scorning Atlanta when a few inches of snow basically stopped city traffic. Look, it makes sense for Northerners to invest in 4-wheel drive, and Northern cities in tons snow plows (we have a few), but Atlanta and around, that would be stupid.
“Fancified Pringles Can”
“Your unintelligent personal assistant”
Humidity. Well, the video is funny because it’s accurate but wow, humidity makes everything feel so much hotter. Don’t look at the temperature on the weather app, look at what the humidity is going to make it feel like.
Our “overreaction” to a slight chill in the air. I’m so hot-blooded, I personally don’t react like this. Actually, where we are we do get seasons, but we make get all of them in one day. Way back in college a student from Boston was laughing at our “cold.”
Country sounds to get you to sleep. “In Memaw’s arms.” The tornado siren and train. I put crickets on my sleep sounds recently.
Things to Do in My state. Strike out “ope” and put “coke” for all soft drinks and this is what I saw on FB for my state. The deer thing, my stars its carnage.