You Can Kick the Sarcastic Habit

You Can Kick the Sarcastic Habit

I made sarcastic comments for years without a second thought. It was all in good fun….right?

Well, two things happened that caused me to rethink the sarcastic remarks.

First, I had a baby. 5 minutes after I read that positive pregnancy test, I was overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy. I started joking with that I had nine months to clean up my act: to swear off the pop tarts, swap diet coke for water, and purge my vocabulary of words like “crap” and “dude.” I didn’t do much about it, but I realized I wanted to change.

The second event occurred years later. I joined a team of women; we were leading a project together. They were a little older than me; I respected them and was eager to learn from their older-and-wiser example. I learned a lot, but I was also shocked at the nonstop sarcastic comments flying at our meetings.

“That was really thoughtful.”

“You’re so graceful.”

“You did a great job with that.”

Do these sound like compliments? If only! No, they were put-downs uttered in response to: an unreturned pen, a spilled drink, and an omitted meeting announcement.

Their example  inspired me to action. If that’s what sarcasm looks like, I don’t want any part of it. And ladies, that is what it looks like. You can do better than that.

10 reasons  to put the sarcasm aside.

1. Sarcasm is ambiguous.

Sarcasm depends heavily on tone of voice, body language and other nonverbal cues to be properly understood. The true meaning of a sarcastic message is easily lost over the phone–and you can forget about sarcastic comments being properly understood in written communication. Sarcasm often goes unnoticed without the change in inflection or raised eyebrow to signal its presence. And if you miss those cues, sarcastic remarks don’t make any sense.

2. Sarcasm translates poorly.

ESL teachers are taught to never use sarcasm:  it’s just not understood by their students.

3. Sarcasm is a defense mechanism.

It’s not a very good one, because of the inherent negative nature of sarcasm. If you need a positive defense mechanism, make it laughter.  (Just make sure it’s friendly laughter.)

4. Sarcasm is cynical.

Do you want to be known as a person who is “scornfully and habitually negative”? That’s the dictionary definition of a cynic. Sarcasm is both a product and reinforcer of negative thinking. Find some happier thoughts. Don’t wallow in negativity.

5. Sarcasm is mean.

The element of humor takes the edge off a bit, but sarcasm is often used to veil truly hurtful criticism. Don’t be a bully; drop the sarcasm.

6. Sarcasm is for cowards.

The touch of humor in sarcastic comments can hide criticisms far too aggressive to be spoken plainly. If you can’t bring yourself to directly say what you really mean, you shouldn’t say it at all.

7. Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.

…according to Oscar Wilde. Take Emily Post’s advice instead: “As a possession for either man or woman, a ready smile is more valuable in life than a ready wit.”

8. Sarcasm is a means of judging others.

Do you really need to belittle others to make yourself look better? Don’t be the jerk with the superiority complex. Use kind words instead.

9. Sarcasm wastes words that could be put to better use.

Kind words are the best thing we can give another person. Sarcasm trades kindness for cruelty. It serves no higher purpose; it builds no one up.

How to stop being sarcastic

Rate yourself.

  • If you’re a frequent offender, it’s likely you already know. But if you need evidence: pay attention to your words, use a digital recorder, or ask a friend.
  • Ask yourself: are you happy with your words?

Decide to make the change.

Change doesn’t happen by accident! I knew that my tongue needed taming, but it was years before I actually decided to take action.

Pay attention to how other people talk. Do you know people who have a particularly kind way with words? Anyone who is especially cruel?  Spend some time thinking about how you want to use your words–and equally importantly–how you don’t.

Make your plan.

make a plan to stop being sarcasticMake a plan to break the bad habit. Sometimes, just paying attention–and promising yourself you’ll think before you speak–can do wonders. If this isn’t enough, try wearing a rubber band on your wrist and giving yourself a little snap when you let a sarcastic comment fly. Or make a mark on a pocket notebook so you can see how you’re doing.

And tell somebody that you’re working to stop being sarcastic and to speak with kindness instead. Someone who sees a lot of you would be best. (Also, they have the most to gain by your new-and-improved speech.) My husband just said to me two hours ago–very innocently–“Was that sarcastic?” in response to a comment I had made. Well, yes it was, but I hadn’t even noticed.

Follow up.

Give yourself a couple of weeks; then pause for review. Go back to the top of the list–and rate yourself again. Are you making progress?

You’ve had a lifetime to form your speech patterns–but it doesn’t have to take a lifetime to unlearn bad habits!

Recommended Reading:

How to Graciously Receive a Compliment. Many people have a hard time accepting praise. Here are a few tips and tricks for accepting a compliment with grace and class.

The Magic 5 Hours for a Successful Marriage. What separates successful marriages from failing ones? Surprisingly, the answer is 5 hours a week.

Pssst! A Secret About Secrets. Secrets are bad for you. Here’s what to do about it.

photo credit

Comments

  1. says

    I agree. I lived in Spain for half a year and never heard sarcasm. Occasionally I tried to use it (in Spanish) and there were always misunderstandings. People would look at me like, what? Do you actually mean that? I wonder if it exists in any language but English.

    • Anne says

      That’s so interesting about your personal experience. And other languages do have sarcasm–and some even have special punctuation marks to indicate it!

  2. says

    Anne, this is awesome! Thanks for the gentle reminder to act like a lady, and purge this bad habit.

    Can you write one for getting rid of a potty mouth???

    • Anne says

      Hey thanks! I hear ya on the potty talk. If we’re talking about kids’ potty mouths, white vinegar was the miracle cure at my house. I may have to post on the details!

  3. Joules says

    Kudos to you for kicking the habit! It’s a hard one to break. It’s become almost like the unofficial Amercian language. I am not certain that I could kick it, but I try to focus it in my own direction instead of at others:)

  4. says

    I am so glad to see this. I’ve known people to take pride in their sarcasm, nor realizing how they sound.

    I can’t remember the exact details now, but in one of Jim Berg’s books he explains that the word “sarcasm ” comes from two other words meaning “to tear flesh.” That was convicting to me.

  5. says

    Thanks for posting this. I appreciate it. Sarcasm is not something we should be proud of. Plus, when you have a child you don’t want to pass that negative style of communication to the child. I need to remember these 10 things.

  6. says

    Thanks for posting this. I made the same change several years ago when I was hurt by my aunt’s constant sarcasm. I realized that I didn’t want to be the source of that same hurt for anyone else.

    I think a lot of it had to do with my self-confidence, too. I realized that I was using sarcasm to look cool, and then I realized that I didn’t need to “look cool”. I just needed to be myself, say what I intended to say (tactfully), and leave it at that.

  7. Jessalyn @DesiringVIrtue.com says

    Thanks for this encouragement. My husband and I have talked a lot about the damaging effect of sarcasm. I will be linking to this on Friday.

  8. says

    Oh, this is good! I was raised with sarcasm. It is a nasty habit and I fight it constantly. My kids are sarcastic because their parents can be. It was the way my hubby and I fought for years. Sarcasm is like slicing someone. It goes to the quick. It is mean and hurtful and it is not a godly way to act.

    I’m printing this off and reading this to my kids this morning for devotions! Thank you!

  9. says

    You got me where it hurts. I think I use it so much I don’t even realize it. Now that I’m thinking about it, I hope I can curb this nasty habit. Great post!

  10. says

    Lots of insight here! They used to call me “Little Spit Fire” and I was quite proud of my nickname! I guess I’m not for throwing out sarcasm all together, but if the intent is one of those things on your list then yes! I still think even sarcasm can be used in a fun positive way, but I’ll be thinking about my speech these next few days and evaluating.

  11. says

    Wow, I never really thought about it until I read this post. Maybe I’m sarcastic sometimes and don’t even realize it, well I’ll be keeping a better eye on it now! lol
    The other thing this post made me think of was that I am trying to kick the swearing habit, or at least most of it. While I don’t have little ones around all the time I seldom think about what comes out, it just happens and I don’t even realize it. Not that I offend anyone, (yet) but it has been mentioned before in conversation that swearing for some guys can be a turn off, and I’ve been trying to stay on top of it ever since. !
    I could also apply swearing to some of your list above, like swearing can be mean, swearing translates poorly..
    great post, Thanks for the insight!

  12. Joe says

    I’ve really been trying to stop being sarcastic for the past few years. I used to talk to people, like my friends, sarcastically, thought that i was funny and all, but later on i realized that i was actually hurting there feelings. I’ve never realized before that sarcasm is actually NOT funny, and can lead to a huge misunderstanding. Thank you for this, and God bless.

  13. elizabeth says

    Thanks for this article. It is just what I needed to read. I know that I am too sarcastic, and it took an event today to make me want to stop. Thanks!

  14. Mary says

    Wow has this opened my eyes! I was on the RECEIVING end of a sarcastic comment. A short story about it: My best friend and I had a falling out and we hadn’t spoken in 3 years. A mutual friend of ours wanted to help us make peace…so he placed a phone call to her (they just saw each other on the military base hours before, so he figured this call wouldn’t be completely out of the blue). On the phone he says to her “Mary’s here and she’d like to talk to you. Do you want to talk to her?” Her answer: “I’ll think about it.” Then she said she had to go and their conversation ended. I felt so incredibly bad, I cried at his house. I cried all the way home…normally 45 minutes which pulling over twice turned into a 2 hour ride home. Well that was 1989, and it still hurts after all this time. But after reading this blog, I see her cowardly, mean-spirited, verbal aggressive nature. She REALLY wasn’t thinking about it. She was dismissive. I see the reality of a failed friendship. Her best answer should have been one word: No. I would not have mistaken that and I would have ‘moved on’ and had closure much sooner than 23 years later. Thank you for this article.

    • Anne says

      Oh, Mary, this is such a sad story. I’m so sorry to hear how your friend’s sarcastic comments hurt you for so long.

      • Mary says

        In the days after reading your blog and posting my comment, I thought long and hard about that friendship: the good days and the bad ones. I came to the conclusion that I overlooked many a snide comment, thinking she had a dry sense of humor. Her comments would then escalate into opinions “Wow look at this butch haircut of yours.” (mind you we WERE in the military) and further still into judgements, such as “Boy Mary you really do say some stupid things.” (I get tongue-tied sometimes). Those should have been red flags. Instead they were overlooked by me when they should been disarmed and defused. Yes, we had some great days, I still have fantastically funny memories of things we said and did. But unfortunately, sarcasm has a way of undermining relationships by being built upon sand rather than stone. Looks like I was the one to think about it. I’m glad I did ~ I don’t people like her in my life anymore.

    • Eugen says

      Uhm… that wasn’t actually a sarcastic reply. I mean, maybe if she had a very specific tone of voice, but otherwise, I don’t think that was sarcasm at all. Sarcasm would have been “Talk to her? Yeah, sure, put her on!” and then hanging up the phone, or “I’d rather talk to Satan about my living quarters in Hell then talk to her”. Sure, it was kind of mean, but I don’t think it was sarcasm.

  15. Eugen says

    You people are kind of weird. You don’t seem to understand sarcasm at all. Sarcasm in itself is not bad, nor is it the “lowest form of wit” as many people claim. In fact it takes a certain amount of intelligence to be able to understand and use sarcasm, as the brain need to work harder to process both the words you use and the real meaning you want them to have. Not being able to understand sarcasm (when used correctly, mind you) can actually be a sign of brain damage/tumor or other problems.

    That being said, most people who claim they are sarcastic really aren’t. Just saying the opposite of what you mean with a mean tone of voice doesn’t make you sarcastic. Anyone and their dog can do that.

    Another thing people don’t seem to realize is that you can be sarcastic without actually attacking a person. You can poke fun of yourself (EX: And I, being the genius that I am, didn’t realize she was in love with ME, not my friend. I mean, girls call guys they’re not interested in over to their apartments for cake all the time.). You can use sarcasm during a movie, for example (EX: Our hero, ladies and gentlemen: Bravely running away leaving his friends to die).

    In short: Hate the player, not the game. Just because 90% of people use sarcasm to be jerks doesn’t mean that sarcasm itself is bad. Those people are just jerks, and they would be jerks even without sarcasm.

    • Jamey says

      I don’t believe this was written for those who can use sarcasm appropriately. I came across this article because I was google searching ways to change “what I know” is my hurtful sarcasm, that I use everyday.

    • Mandy says

      THANK YOU!! I completely agree. I adore sarcasm, and find it to be a very intelligent form of humor. I will continue to use sarcasm, and enjoy it in others.

  16. mbry says

    Thank you for a wonderful post! I am glad to see we are not alone. My husband and I realized with the addition of our first child that sarcasm was not a positive thing or something we wanted to pass on to her. This after being quite fluent in it from the working world for many years. And, now we notice how embedded it is into so much we see and do. We are a no television family (partially for the sarcasm and communication) so we try to find enriching theatre for toddlers/preschoolers as a treat. We had been attending one in Washington D.C, but over the last 18 months, we have noticed the programs, even here, are including sarcasm in what appears to be an attempt to interact more with the children and parents in the audience. It is unfortunate. We see it more because we are aware of it, like a itch that will not go away. And, as the whole audience has giggled for the third time about some sarcastic remark made for the benefit of parents that the children are absorbing, we cringe and vow that we will be removing these events as well from our social calendar.

  17. Chelsea says

    Without really realising it, for a while I have been a person who uses sarcasm often. Although, I have never had any intention of offending anyone or being a bully. I use sarcasm towards myself… like someone might ask me for help in a certain subject, and I might say “Yes, because I’m definitely the person you should be asking – I know everything.” in a sarcastic tone… that kind of thing.
    And now that I think about it, the reason I am so sarcastic is because I became really good friends with this group of people who use sarcasm to communicate. All the time. So I spend all of my time around them, and then started speaking like them.

    But the problem is, people are taking me way too seriously, and I guess that they don’t understand that I’m not actually being serious, because a couple of people have made comments that I’m extremely arrogant and ‘up myself’. And that I give cheek and can be quite rude…
    And I honestly hate that about myself. None of those traits are ones which I want to have. So as much as it was offensive to be told that I am up myself, I guess in the long run it’s a good thing because I realise why that is now. I use way too much sarcasm. And I’ve been doing it for too long.

    So now I just need to stop the sarcasm! Thanks for the post.

    • Anne says

      Chelsea, it is definitely contagious–and that’s so hard to deal with, for me too! Good luck with ditching the sarcasm. I hope you’re able to swap it out for some traits that make you happy :)

  18. Katie says

    After an insecure childhood, I learned to get by with humor and sarcasm in my teen years, and that was the makeup of my personality for the next 15+ years. In the past few years I decided to cut the sarcasm out of my life, and some of my friends fell by the wayside. It has been very hard for me to make this change in my life. Some friends aren’t interested in me anymore, and since my whole personality was built on that sort of humor, I’ve had a hard time knowing who I am. But I also don’t want to go back to who I was before. Now I see that much of sarcasm has hurtful undertones and is often an indirect way to communicate anger, hurt or frustration.

  19. Anna says

    Hello! Thank you for this article! I am extremely fluent in sarcasm and I know it’s a problem. Not only do I know that I am hurting others, but it hurts me and always puts me in a bad mood- it’s just so much negative energy that could be put into positive energy! The problem is, this habit has gotten extreme. It’s probably the only form of communication I use now, and everyone knows me as being solely sarcastic. That’s not how I want others to view me! I often watch my friends who are kind and how they speak, but my negative feelings and emotions get the best of me, and I am quite vocal (or give degrading looks) almost every 10 seconds. As you can tell, it’s pretty bad! I was just wondering if you knew of any self-help books or if anyone else reading this knew of something that could put me on the right track? This article was very helpful, but I feel like I need to be constantly focusing on not being sarcastic, and need to explore this deeper. Thank you for your help!

    • Jamey says

      This reply relates so much to me and my sarcasm addiction. I too would like to know of any self help, or treatment plan I could discuss with my Dr.

  20. says

    I have so much to think about now. I’ve always seen sarcasm in a good light, maybe because I don’t think I use it maliciously, but now I need to go into my words and evaluate. Thanks for this.

  21. Diana says

    YOu people are amazing. And what a column. Just when I thought there is no hope in the world. That sarcastic people are just a bunch of meanies and bullies. Its not wit who are we kidding. If you attack yourself in wit using sarcasm fine. But using it on others to put people down. Is just plain old mean and doesnt win you many friends. I never thought in a lifetime that sarcastic people can change. And they recognise their bullying ( AS ADULTS) and we thought there was only school yard bullying. Congratulations to you all. And God bless you in the beautiful friendships that result. I have a friend for 30yrs never used sarcasm on me once. Talks about climate change. Religion. Topics. Never bad mouthed anyone. Thats how friendships are sustained. And she is the most as well as other people in my life beautiful people I know. Kudos to all of you. Except Mr I am so witty… hihihi joke.

  22. John Calvin Errickson II says

    The point of the article is to always engage in
    very dry conversations. Never laugh or joke
    around. Be morbid in all forms of speech.

  23. says

    Hi Anne,
    I enjoy your blog, but I’m a lurker and never comment! I love this post because I hate sarcasm myself and find it damaging. But here is what I don’t understand, and maybe if you get a chance you can share your thought process and reasoning – my question is this: how can you dislike sarcasm and like Jane Austen? I recently wrote a post on my blog about why I am not a huge fan of her writing, and one of my top reasons is her sarcasm. http://wxroz.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/thoughts-on-jane-austen/ Almost everyone who disagreed with me enjoyed the sarcastic humor! As I look over your reasons for ditching sarcasm I find it hard to believe that you like her works so much! Many of your arguments against sarcasm describe how I feel about her wit and humor. Maybe for you it’s okay in fiction but not in real life? Or maybe it’s something else? I’m dying to know what you think! Please share if you have a chance! Thanks!

    • says

      Oh, interesting. This is such good food for thought, Danielle!

      Surprisingly, I’d never thought through this before, but here are my first, broad, subject-to-change thoughts: Jane Austen’s novels are brilliant social commentary. It’s to this end that she so effectively deploys her (sarcastic) wit. The sarcasm works for social commentary far better than it would work, say, in a conversation with a dear friend at the dinner table.

      Here’s another example: I love Downton Abbey, and think the Dowager’s scathing remarks (which usually function as social commentary) are hysterical scene-stealers. Is she nice? No. But she’s a great character.

      Those are my first thoughts. I’ll definitely be thinking about this theme the next time I pick up an Austen novel (which will be soon). Although I do recall that in Emma, Emma’s sarcasm comes back to bite her and she repents.

      (I really enjoyed your post on this.)

      • says

        I think I understand what you’re saying. It doesn’t bother you that much in books / movies / tv, because it’s either a: not real, so not really hurting anyone, or b: proving a point or shedding light on something, like Austen’s social commentary. That makes sense to me.

        I totally agree that sarcasm between friends (or spouses!) has the potential to be inappropriate and hurtful, I definitely dislike it in those situations. I guess for me, my dislike of sarcasm in general speaks to my sense of humor, so I just don’t find sarcasm funny usually – but I suppose it also depends on the situation! I usually find tv shows that are comprised solely of sarcastic humor are not shows I’m interested in watching. I’ve never seen Downton Abbey, though, but if I end up watching it I’ll have to keep my eye out for the Dowager.

        If you have more thoughts about it as you read your next Austen, or in general feel free to share! I’d be interested to hear them. Thanks for reading my post and the reply!

  24. John Calvin Errickson II says

    Apologies for the previous posting. It is good to have waited until the
    age of 50 to take the time to read one of Jane Austen’s writings. ‘Emma’
    is very funny in an appropriate manner.

  25. xxhana says

    Here in Philippines, we don’t take sarcasm seriously. Sarcasm is a normal thing for us. We’re used to it. Reading this made me think about how other people take sarcasm. Now I’m having second thoughts about using sarcasm again…

  26. Hani says

    Oh gee, Thank you so much. After i read all this non sense i decided to stop being sarcastic.

    Sincerely,

  27. Peter S says

    It’s interesting to see how many people are against sarcasm and trying to ‘kick the habit’. Probably a good thing for most who have fallen into a negative pit.
    I look at my own experience and find that it’s embedded in my personality and family. I believe it makes family dinner more enjoyable and funny rather than everyone being so normal, especially as everyone is on board and knows it’s only a joke. Some of the best comedic moments on tv are sarcastic, and there are many many comedy sitcoms simply based on sarcasm which millions of people watch and crave. My friends like me for who I am and i would not want to change myself. I believe a world without sarcasm would be quite drab, not to mention half the shows on tv would go out the door.

    Maybe the trick is to keep it classy and not so mean/insulting?

    A very good read but probably not for me :)

    • says

      “It’s interesting to see how many people are against sarcasm and trying to ‘kick the habit.’”

      Ha! That’s a great point, Peter. :)

      “Maybe the trick is to keep it classy and not so mean/insulting?”

      Yes, I absolutely agree.

  28. Sandra says

    Hi all, I must say I feel much better that I am not the only one fighting this habbit off. I`m 32 years old and all my life I have used sarcasm in one way or the other. Recently I got feedback from my superiors about it and it was heart-breaking to learn that what I thought was funny and witty came across cynical and mean. So not being able to change my personality, my roots, I rather think about shutting up more and trying to be extra nice to people which again can come across as fake….anyway good to see that it can be changed with baby steps. :)

    Thanks for the article!

    • says

      Sandra,

      That sounds like a difficult–if eye-opening–conversation with your superiors. Good luck with the baby steps!

  29. says

    Hi Anne,
    Thank you for your post. A good friend said she didn’t want me to come around to her house as she was concerned that I might make a sarcastic comment at some point in the future. Until then I thought that if anything sarcasm was clever. But what my friend implied that was that I was prepared to make an unkind comment, dressed up in sarcasm, point 6.
    Kindness is a core value of mine and you Anne and my friend have shown me that sarcasm is unkind. As do many of the comments here.
    Thank you Anne, my life’s mantra is:
    Live in the moment it’s a present
    Love greatly and unconditionally
    Laugh at Life’s challenges funny things and ourselves
    Bruce

  30. says

    I’m so glad I read this. I’m on the verge of chasing away someone I really adore….all because of sarcasm. I had no idea how annoying I was. It’s time to take this to heart and improve the way I communicate.

  31. Pippy says

    I have a new person in my life, a new neighbor, and sort of family that often uses sarcasm to insult my creative ideas. She is wealthy and I am not, so I have to figure out how to make a dollar stretch. She didn’t like my new “sofa” that I put together (twin beds stacked on each other with a body pillow for the back). And because I have mental health issues, I stay home a great deal. In her sarcastic tone, she said, “You can put your sofa on a pallet board with wheels and roll it under the stairs and hide!”.
    Now, I don’t really care if she likes my sofa idea or not, but her sarcasm on my mental health difficulties was painful. I would really like to talk to her, but not sure how or where to begin. I just signed a lease with her and wish now I were homeless.

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