You Can Kick the Sarcastic Habit

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.

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  1. 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…

  2. Hani says:

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


  3. 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 🙂

    • Anne 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.

  4. 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!

    • Anne says:


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

  5. Bruce 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

  6. Gina 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.

  7. 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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