Exercises for Sarcasm
“You’re such a good friend.”
Sarcastic: The speaker has asked to borrow a book, but the other person is too lazy to look for it. (Basically, any situation in which the “you” has failed to demonstrate true friendship.)
“Well, nobody’s perfect.”
Serious: Somebody has made a mistake, and the speaker is trying to say something comforting, to excuse the mistake.
Sarcastic: One person has made mistake after mistake after mistake, and the person commenting is insulting them – nobody is perfect, but you’re not even close! (This works as self-deprecation, too, if it is the speaker who has made a bunch of mistakes.)
“I hope you’re happy.”
Serious: Two old friends or former lovers haven’t seen each other for a long time. One expresses a sincere desire that the other is happy in life.
Sarcastic: One person has done something the speaker disapproves of. (This is a snarky way of implying “I hope you’re happy, because you’ve made everybody else unhappy.”)
“Mmm. Crunchy. That’s just how I like it.”
Serious: The speaker is eating something crunchy, and really does like it.
Sarcastic: The speaker is eating something that is supposed to be crunchy but is obviously soft and mushy (and therefore unappealing), such as wet croutons. OR the speaker is eating something that is crunchy, but shouldn’t be (and is therefore unappealing), like pasta.
“Wow, you look great!”
Serious: The speaker is greeting a friend. [Note: two heterosexual men are less likely to compliment each other’s appearance — but it could happen if, say, one had been sick, or if one has lost a lot of weight, or some other large transformation.]
Sarcastic: The speaker’s friend looks like he’s been up all night, with puffy, tired eyes and disheveled clothing. The intended meaning is, “Wow! You look terrible,” but the two people are close enough that sarcasm here is taken light-heartedly.
“Gosh, I love linguistics homework!”
Serious: The speaker truly enjoys linguistics homework. (Perhaps it’s just fun, or perhaps it really helps the speaker to learn the material.)
Sarcastic: The speaker is having difficulty with the assignment, or is irritated by the amount of it.
“Thanks, I appreciate your input.”
Serious: The speaker has gotten helpful advice or helpful feedback on a project.
Sarcastic: Someone has provided the speaker with unhelpful or unwanted advice, or failed to provide requested advice.
Wow, I like what you’ve done with the place.”
Serious: The speaker is complimenting the listener’s remodeling or redecoration of a physical space (home, office space, etc).
Sarcastic: The speaker is criticizing how the listener has not properly maintained or decorated a physical space (which may be a mess, may be overgrown, may need painting, may have no decorations at all, etc).
Listen to each audio file to determine if the speaker is sarcastic or not. (If you want more examples, check out the exercises for expressing emotion.)
We have two audio files performing the same dialogue. Note that on the written page (without any further information about the second speaker’s personality, opinions, and attitude), we can’t tell whether or not the second speaker is being sarcastic. You should be able to hear a clear difference in the performances, however! Which is which?
Speaker 1: Sally just got the editor job. Isn’t that great?
Speaker 2: Well, gee, that’s just wonderful!
Speaker 1: She’s so happy!
Speaker 2: Yeah, I’m sure she’ll do just great. Her article last week was perfect.
Speaker 1: Oh, it was! I’m going to go congratulate her!
Speaker 2: Oh! I’m right behind you!
Speaker 1: Hey! There’s going to be a huge party this weekend!
Speaker 2: Woo
Speaker 1: Do you want to go?
Speaker 2: With you?
Speaker 1: Yeah. It’ll be great!
Speaker 2: Yes! I’m sure it will be really fun!
Speaker 1: Great! I’ll pick you up at 7:00!
Speaker 2: Awesome. I can’t wait!
Watch this conversation, looking first for examples of sarcasm. After you’ve identified particular examples, watch again to try to figure out how the sarcasm is being used (its function). *WARNING: this video contains language that might be considered inappropriate for children.*
Watch another snippet of conversation, again looking for examples of sarcasm and trying to figure out how the sarcasm is being used (its function).
With a slight adjustment, we can turn one of the above dialogues into a story:
So this woman I work with told me there was going to be a huge party. I was like, “Woo.” She asked if I wanted to go, and I was like, “With you?” She said it would be really great, and I was all, “Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be really fun. I can’t wait.“
Record a couple of different versions of this story. In one, report what “you” said “straight” (with no sarcasm). In the other, try to sound as sarcastic as you can — make your voice drip with it! — but only when you’re directly quoting what “you” said (the parts in blue). Play the recordings for various people and see if they can tell when you’re trying to be sarcastic and when you’re not.