I’m sure you’ve experienced it too. That moment when you meet someone in a mono-cultural setting—say an office party—and she says, “This is the most fun I’ve had in my life” with that intonation that really says, “This party is worse than having my fingernails ripped off.”
You absorb the double-entendre and stare squinty-brained at her, trying to assess if this is unintentional humor or the telltale sign that this stranger may be a soulmate.
Congratulations: you’re an MK.
I’m not sure how sarcasm became an MK trait. I only know that for people like me, it feels a lot like home. Those statements made straight-faced that mean the opposite of what the words convey—no “JK” needed. Or cutting words uttered with a guileless smile and lilting voice. We know how to interpret the smirking commentary exactly the way our humor-twin intends it.
Perhaps it’s the confusion of our languages and cultures that makes this verbal plane a simpler place to meet, a platform built across the gulf of our core difference.
Or maybe it’s something else—a coping mechanism, born of necessity, that helps us to find humor in life’s most taxing vagaries.
Whatever its source, sarcasm softens the edges of our discomfort, dilutes the acid of our disappointments and soothes the ache of being different and unknown.
It identifies us to each other and, like a password spoken through a closed door, unlocks the full potential of a life-enhancing friendship.
We value this common propensity for tongue-in-cheek understatement, a secret handshake that seals us to each other. When judgers tell us it’s the lowest form of humor, we’re quick to point out how it may be superior, lauding its subtlety in a world where simple words feel like lazy self-expression, where perceiving something beyond the obvious is a skill that’s all but lost.
For those of us who grew up with sarcasm as the soundtrack to our greatest joys and grievances, hearing it again—engaging in it again—feels familiar and completing.
It’s a Sixth Love Language we’ve learned to recognize and wield.
But for others, it may come across as cynical and foreign.
When I became a teacher (quite unintentionally!) nearly thirty years ago, I began to realize that sarcasm is both strength and liability—a gift and a responsibility.
I saw my classroom fill each morning with younger versions of MK-me, and fell into sarcasm easily. It accelerated connection, bridging age and nationality.
But I discovered that it could be a wounding thing too when used to reprimand or judge. Even more so in combination with toxifying agents like disapproval, anger and dishonesty.
When disciplining a student, sarcasm was belittling. When diffusing tension by making light of a situation, it added insult to already brittle contexts. When trying to act friendly with someone I didn’t appreciate, it served only to accentuate the falseness of my words.
Over time, I learned to consider sarcasm as a condiment—not a staple—in the relationships I entered…an intense form of wit best used in measured applications until I was certain I wouldn’t be misunderstood.
In environments where sarcasm isn’t the norm, we might do well to manage it carefully, at least in early stages of interpersonal exchanges. This will protect both us and others from the pitfalls of having our humor misconstrued.
A few suggestions from someone who found out the hard way that this Sixth Love Language is anything but universal:
- Target yourself with your sarcasm, not others. (Neutral, non-human subjects make great targets too! But avoid using sarcasm for deeply-held beliefs.)
- Never use sarcasm as a means to attack or get even.
- Start with subtle sarcasm, assess the response, and double-down as warranted.
- Reserve the most intense version of your sense of humor for those who have demonstrated a similar penchant.
- If someone seems hurt or dismayed by your attempt to be funny—slam on the brakes and apologize quickly. A confident person is capable of acknowledging a verbal miscalculation.
Whatever you do, do not let your fluency in this MK language decline! Whether it’s the highest or lowest form of self-expression is still up for discussion, but sarcasm is typically us…and it’s precisely what makes us the most amazing, envied and adored people group in—the—entire—universe.
Got some sarcasm fails to report? We want to hear your stories! Some additional guidelines to offer? Share away. Use the comments section below…and don’t forget to use the Like and Social Media buttons.