Sarcasm in the world: a universal language?

Sarcasm in the world: a universal language?

Sarcasm in the world: a universal language?

April 23, 2020 | Languages

I love sarcasm. I really do. I use sarcasm so much when speaking that you could even consider it my second mother tongue. Well, of course, I’ve had plenty of time to realize that my sarcasm isn’t always understood by my friends. And, what’s even more interesting is that, depending on one’s culture, which could be roughly generalized to their nationality, it was more or less likely that I would be understood, and that I would be answered with sarcasm. Hence my question: is sarcasm universal?

First of all, what is sarcasm?

According to the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, sarcasm is "a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark or taunt making fun of a person or situation". Sarcasm can be quite hard to detect, especially when you are not used to it, because, being sarcastic (and not ironic), is saying the opposite of what you think without showing it. This is also why sarcasm isn’t always considered as a form of humor, but as something acerbic, hurtful. Even though I tend to believe that people who are hurt by sarcasm are those who just can’t detect it (but I don’t take any offense, nobody is perfect). 

How to recognize sarcasm? 

There are no words, sentences, or idioms which really are specific to sarcasm, because, what really conveys sarcasm is the tone of voice. Which makes things ever so simple, I get that. Okay, so, if one can’t understand spoken sarcasm, there is no way one would understand written sarcasm, right? This is where abbreviations are helpful, young padawans: on Reddit, for example, when someone uses sarcasm in a post or a comment, they add “/s” to show that it really is sarcasm, and should be taken with a grain of salt. Petition so that everybody starts using it, that way we can avoid verifying Godwin’s Law too quickly.

Is sarcasm understood everywhere in the world? 

But, in the end, if we follow this train of thought, understanding sarcasm would depend on the individual? Or could our nationality, and by extension our culture, influence this? I don’t think I am mistaken when I say that humour is something quite cultural, because it is based on a common knowledge (a language, the History of a country, references, the use of non-verbal communication…). Every culture has its prefered sense of humour. Otherwise, why would we talk about British humour? it is not necessarily appreciated by non-initiated, simply because we don’t always get it. From what I understood, Japanese people prefer puns, and French people tend to have a biting sense of humour. Which could have a role in why certain cultures accept sarcasm better than others.

How to deal with sarcasm in an international context?

In the end, what makes sarcasm, isn’t what we say, not necessarily at least, because sarcasm is not a language, but more like a figure of speech, wit. What makes sarcasm is the attitude, the way things are said. It therefore exists in every language, but its understanding and acceptance is not the same depending on countries and cultures. So, in an international context, at least at first, it might be a good idea to avoid being too sarcastic, because you don’t always know how it will be perceived by your peers. When I see that someone doesn’t get when I am being sarcastic, or when someone clearly tells me that they are hurt, I do my best to get my sarcastic impulses under control, which, funnily enough, only come when I speak French or English. Maybe another proof that sarcasm isn’t universal!

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Hi! I'm Sarra, I'm one of the business developers at Leeve. Traveling, meeting people from different cultures, learning and speaking different languages... Those have always been passions of mine. Because traveling is a way of meeting new people, thinking differently and to being open-minded, we want to offer these experiences to everyone with Leeve!

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