Why ‘I was just sarcastic’ can be such a convenient excuse

<span class="billedtekst">Oh come on, you could see it was sarcasm … right?</span> <span class="tilskrivning"><en klasse="link hurtig-noclick-hhv" href="http://www.apimages.com/metadata/Index/Election-2020-Canvassing/542b128d592b4c64a00191f13f1362a2/15/0" rel="nofollow noopener" mål="_blank" data-ylk="slk:AP Foto/Sue Ogrocki">AP Photo / Sue Ogrocki</a></span>“src =” https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/N7oKoiMXUuHVLPXfSWxpmA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ1OQ–/https://s.yimg.com/uw/f26/6/5 – ~ B / aD05Mzg7dz0xNDQwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u / https: //media.zenfs.com/en/the_conversation_us_articles_815/058d3e674fb1bf09819c818a2b501f2a “data-src =” https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/N7oKoiMXUuHVLPXfSWxpmA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ1OQ – / https: //s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/M5j6plFq8ySf86Br6tsMcw–~B/aD05Mzg7dz0xNDQwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/https: //media.zenfs.com/en/the4f8b8_8221</div>
<p>After President Donald Trump <a href=said during a rally in June 2021, where increased testing was responsible for the growing number of infections, the condemnation of false claim was fast.

Six days later, during a Fox News town hall, Sean Hannity asked Trump about these remarks about increased testing.

“Sometimes I say jokingly, or say sarcastically, that if we did not do tests, we would look good,” he replied.

This seems to be a pattern. Two months earlier, the president had pondered the beneficial effects of injecting disinfectants into the body to combat COVID-19. After many health officials expressed their dismay, Trump said repeatedly claimed he was just being sarcastic.

The same month after he misspelled the “Nobel Prize” in a tweet – wrote it as “Noble Prize” – he deleted the tweet before you fall back on a well-known excuse: sarcasm.

What is it about sarcasm that makes it such a convenient excuse for people trying to distance themselves from what they have said?

As I describe in my book on irony and sarcasm, most cognitive researchers and other linguists think of sarcasm as a form of verbal irony. Both ways of speaking involve saying the opposite of what you mean. But the targets of irony and sarcasm are actually different.

For example, if someone slowly says “What a beautiful weather!” on a cold and rainy day, it is clear that they are talking ironically about a disappointing situation. In general, irony is used to comment on unexpected and negative results.

Sarcasm, on the other hand, is most often used to demean other people’s actions. If someone tells you that you’re a real genius after forgetting to meet them for an important appointment, they clearly do not mean that you’re mentally gifted. In short, irony is comments, but sarcasm is criticism.

It seems straightforward enough. But in practice, the line between irony and sarcasm is blurred and confusing. Many people claim to be sarcastic when in fact they are ironic, as in the previous example of the weather.

The expansion of the domain of sarcasm – at the expense of irony – is a linguistic shift that has been going on for some time. Actual linguist Geoffrey Nunberg drew attention to this phenomenon 20 years ago. So it’s hard to blame the president for mixing the two.

Another element that makes sarcasm difficult to understand has to do with saying the opposite of what is meant. The recipient of such a statement is not intended to take it literally.

For this reason, when we use verbal irony or sarcasm, we can use keywords to signal our non-literal intent. For example, we can speak in a tone that is slower, lower, and louder than the way we normally speak. Our pitch can swing up or down. Ironic statements are also often accompanied by facial expressions, such as a smile or rolling of the eyes.

And that’s why when we’re sarcastic about texting or email, we do it use emojis to convey non-literal intentions. Even then, of course, there is no guarantee that the recipient will interpret the message correctly.

President Trump at times clearly makes use of sarcasm. E.g, at a convention in December 2019 in Hershey, Pennsylvania, he said, referring to Parliament’s forthcoming decision to open a trial, that Democrats “also understand the polls, but I’m sure it had nothing to do with it.” He signals sarcasm by using absolute words like “safe” and “nothing” and by gesturing broadly with both hands. He also pauses to give his audience a moment to interpret his remark as the opposite of what he has said – that “my high polling numbers have everything to do with federal court proceedings.” The remark is sarcastic because there is one clear goal: the Democrats in Congress.

But at both the Tulsa Rally and his press conference in April, the president’s controversial remarks did not have such accompanying verbal and nonverbal cues. He was not critical of anyone; he merely claimed that testing leads to more infections, or asked what appeared to be sincere questions about the use of disinfectants to fight the virus. Probably he meant literally what he said.

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As the President has repeatedly demonstrated, an allegation of intentional sarcasm can be used to go back to a remark that has been criticized or otherwise fallen flat. Thanks to our smooth understanding of the concept, along with the way sarcasm can be easily overlooked, it can act as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card: the speaker can take a conversation opportunity and try to do things right.

We all said things that we later regretted and appealed to “just for fun” or “I was sarcastic.” But if we usually search for such excuses to absolve ourselves of linguistic sins, it becomes, like the little boy who cried wolf, less and less effective.

This article was republished from The conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It is written by: Roger J. Cross, University of Memphis.

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Roger J. Kreuz does not work for, consult, own shares in, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has not disclosed any relevant affiliations other than their academic appointment.

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