Irony, Sarcasm and Wit

Thursday 29th November

The three are often confused, and that is because the distinctions between them are not clear cut; in fact both sarcasm and irony can also be very witty, and wit can be sarcastic or ironic too.  The labeling, like so much today, is often more about how the comment is received than how it is intended.  So, an ironic comment can be mistaken for sarcasm if the hearer suspects it might be directed towards them.  Irony is generally admired, it is seen as clever, a way of revealing a hidden or true meaning underlying the obvious statement.  The dictionary defines irony as a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated.’  The example given is the irony of her reply, “How nice!” when I said I had to work all weekend.’  But surely this depends on the way it is said.  It could be very sarcastic too if said with a sneer in the voice.

And that sneer is the key to sarcasm, it is hard to hide, and usually surfaces despite the sweetest of deliveries.  I am usually accused of sarcasm, when wit was intended.  I just found something someone said or did funny, and trying to be slightly ironic, or more often with no effort at all came out with a razor-sharp riposte which I thought amusing but others with a lower sense of the ridiculous did not.   And because I find most things in life rather funny I am sarcastic rather often. (or so people tell me)

Wit is one of those descriptions that can be either positive or not.  ‘How witty!’ can be a compliment or in itself a sarcastic or even ironic comment.  So, it can all get a bit complicated, maybe the following can clarify things a tad.

“Shakespeare was a man of wit  – On his shirt he had some buttons”.   Discuss