Is sarcasm a mean act


As irony is a rhetorical stylistic device that is used in all literary genres, in speech and in colloquial language. The irony describes that the speaker expresses something, whereby he means exactly the opposite of what is expressed. However, it is essential that the recipient (Listener, reader, viewer) or at least a certain audience realizes that the utterance was ironic and means the opposite. The character resembles sarcasm, ridicule and cynicism.

Term & examples

The term can be derived from the Greek (εἰρωνεία ~ eironeía) derive and with adjustment or else pretense translate. As a result, the translation already refers to what is fundamentally about: namely to pretend a statement, although the exact opposite of this statement is meant. Therefore, the irony is sometimes difficult to see. Let's look at an example to illustrate this.

Peter balances several coffee cups. Suddenly they fall to the ground.
“Well done!” Calls out Anne, his boss.

In the example above the situational embedding, i.e. the brief history, is really important. Otherwise it would not be apparent to the reader that the statement should be understood ironically. It is essential here that it is clear that it is not Great dropping multiple cups on the floor causing them to break.

Would just stand there "Well done," Anne calls out to him [...]. " would not be recognizable that the statement actually has to mean the opposite and itself Not actually refers to a laudable act. It is noticeable that irony is sometimes difficult to recognize and therefore can be misunderstood if it is not evident that the opposite is meant. Let's look at another example.

A student comes home and says that on the way home his new smartphone fell on the floor and is no longer working. The mother looks at him and says: “No problem. We have it! ".

The example is ambiguous and shows the problem of irony. Is the mother's remark to be understood ironically or is she actually telling her son that it is not a problem that the smartphone is broken? In everyday life, this question can mostly be answered by the undertone or other irony signals (Facial expressions, gestures, intonation). In literary works, however, this is usually more difficult.

The important thing here is that the mother's statement can only be understood ironically if the family actually has no money and the son knows that too. This means that both sides know that there is no money and that buying a cell phone would be problematic. But if there were large financial reserves, the statement should not be interpreted ironically, as it expresses the truth. Another example:

A man is coming home. The dog ravaged the apartment.
Man: "That's a nice present!"

This example sentence obviously means the opposite and is therefore meant ironically. It is also an example of the fact that there are sometimes fixed ironic formulations that are used in the language. The above sentence usually means the opposite in German and rarely what it says.

All examples are to be understood ironically. This can either be due to signals of irony (Wink, disguised voice and other signals that indicate that something else is meant) or based on the knowledge that something must be meant differently. If both sides have a common knowledge, no further signals are needed. For outsiders, the irony is then difficult to interpret.

Difference: Irony, sarcasm and cynicism

If the stylistic device of irony has now been recognized, it is often noticeable that there is a proximity to sarcasm and cynicism. But even if the terms are related to one another and are partially similar, they can be distinguished. Below is an overview of the differences.

  • Irony: As a rhetorical stylistic device, it primarily refers to the fact that something is expressed by the opposite. It is important here that it is clear to the recipient that this is the case. Otherwise the ironic will be misunderstood. So it is necessary to have a common knowledge that the utterance is ironic. Irony uses the technique of meaning reversal and is a means of expressing something.

  • Sarcasm: Denotes biting mockery or mockery. Sarcasm can be expressed ironically when the opposite is said. However, it can also be completely free of irony. Sarcasm is - as opposed to irony - not a technique, but an intention of the statement. This should clearly mock and ridicule the recipient. What is meant here can be expressed directly or indirectly.

  • Cynicism: In contrast to irony and sarcasm, describes a kind of state of mind. Cynicism is not a technique, it is a way of life. A cynic rejects central norms and morals of society and makes them look ridiculous. Cynicism is one of those traits. Those who ridicule other people's values ​​are deliberately violating and mocking them. However, cynical remarks can be sarcastic and ironic, which is why it is difficult to differentiate in individual cases.

Irony in literature

The ironic remarks presuppose a common knowledge between recipient and sender. Either this already exists in advance or can be conveyed through clear irony signals. If the respective signal is ambiguous, the ironic is misunderstood and has to explain the irony.

The problem that literature has is that the author of a work does not know what knowledge its readers have and it is difficult to convey mimic, tonal or gestural signals of irony. Accordingly, the author must either provide his readership with the necessary knowledge or can point out in the book that this or that is to be understood ironically and therefore means the opposite.

Especially with demanding literature this exchange of knowledge is often neglected. This means that the author gives his reader the responsibility for recognizing and deciphering the ironic message. However, there is a risk that the irony will not be understood, which is therefore consciously accepted. The author must assume that only readers with similar knowledge will recognize the irony.

These problems also exist in journalism. If the audience of a publication is clearly defined and is composed of a very specific target group, it can be assumed that Medium (Magazine, magazine etc.) and readers have the same or at least very similar knowledge. If the target group is larger, however, there is a risk that the ironic undertone will not reach the addressee.

A proverb from the media industry and a warning that is sometimes taught in journalism seminars reads as follows:"The reader never understands irony!". That is why texts that do not necessarily express what they tell are marked as such in the newspaper (cf. glossary, column, comment).

But also personal correspondence can be faced with this challenge, as essential signals of irony are lost due to the writing. When exchanging text messages or chatting, people often get through Emoticons helped, which can underline the intention of the sender. Typically ;-), a lying winking face, or quotation marks can be interpreted as a sign of irony.

Socratic irony

During Socrates' lifetime (469 BC - 399 BC), a Greek philosopher, the term did not refer to a stylistic device, but a technique of conducting a conversation. The point here is to make yourself smaller than you actually are and thus yourself to be stupidin order to lure the interlocutor into a linguistic trap in order to then instruct or stimulate thought.

It's actually about adjusting. This meaning also indicates the translation of the word that deals with To pretend or Adjust translates. Socrates himself called this form of irony the art of midwifery (Maeutics), which should lead the respective interlocutor to see his own erroneous ideas and views and to arrive at other views through the irony.

Only in the course of time and through the development of rhetoric did the term change into a style figure as we use it today. Nevertheless, this original meaning, i.e. making things smaller, is given by the technical term Socratic irony referenced. But irony is mostly used as a stylistic device.

Brief overview: The most important thing about the style figure at a glance
  • A rhetorical stylistic device is called irony. The point here is to express the opposite of what is actually meant. However, it is essential that some of the recipients also recognize this. Otherwise the irony will be misunderstood.
  • In order to clarify an ironic undertone, the speaker can use various irony signals which, as it were, initiate the recipient. However, if the speaker and recipient have similar knowledge or views, irony can do without such signals. In this case, it can be quite funny.
  • Especially in literature (see fiction) However, such signals cannot always be clearly communicated. Therefore, an author has to refer to the ironic and thus initiate the reader. If he does not, the irony can sometimes be misunderstood.
  • In ancient times, especially during the lifetime of the philosopher Socrates, the term denoted something else. The aim was to fool a conversation partner into ignorance and to consciously disguise himself in order to set a linguistic trap. This should lead the speaker to other insights.

  • Note: The stylistic device is related to cynicism and sarcasm, but also to ridicule and mockery. Sometimes it is difficult to clearly differentiate the terms.