I have heard the phrase, "Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit" more often than I'd ever like to admit.
But I do admit that I am a generally sarcastic person. I could try to dissect the reason until I am blue in the face (fifth child, insecure, afraid of being hurt, defensive, etc.) but eventually I come to the conclusion that whichever way you slice it, I indeed have a strong sense of sarcasm.
My dad tells of how his mother used to get his attention with "Hey, handsome" and as soon as he would turn around she'd say, "Oh, not you, pie face."
What a pie face is, I may never know. But you would be hard pressed to sense any resentment or negative reaction from my father towards his mother. He says she was the light in every room and she had a way to make everyone feel comfortable and content. I was named after her. I never met her in this life.
I revel in this honed aptitude for jest. I think when used appropriately, you can diffuse tense situations with sarcasm. It can be placed in a conversation to lighten moods, resolve conflict (or at least conclude it), make someone feel more at ease, and bridge social, religious, intellectual and economical differences.
You might have read a recent article in an LDS-published magazine about sarcasm (here, if interested). I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't roll my eyes for most of its reading. I did. I am sure that the parts I read out loud to Alan were heavily laced with a sarcastic voice. I have stewed and hemmed over this simple article. To be clear, it is as church-sanctioned as all of the religious drivel I write on this blog--except for the fact that an editor of a magazine chose to publish it next to actual prophetic teachings. As far as I am concerned, it is strictly Op-ed. As is what I am writing.
It made me do a little research, though, and consider my need for more humility, so I will give it that much. I have wondered how there could be such a HUGE discrepancy for what the author considers sarcasm and what I do. She writes of it as the archaic definition of the original Greek word from which it is derived that means "to tear flesh, bite the lip in rage, sneer." Sure, that's horrible. I hope that is not how my humor is perceived.
Maybe the issue is that sarcasm, like the middle class, is so vast by modern definition that anything between completely humorless and high-brow banter falls in the sarcastic category. Which is really our fault. Because we are ignoring such great varieties of humor like witticisms, quips, repartee, etc.
If sarcasm is always cutting another in the guise of humor, then we have been misappropriating quips like these as sarcastic:
"No, Groucho is not my real name. I am breaking it in for a friend." Groucho MarxOscar Wilde, consequently, was the one who allegedly penned the original idea that "Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit." But that is not the complete quote. What he was said to have written was:
"Familiarity breeds contempt--and children." Mark Twain
"We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time." Vince Lombardi
"As the poet said, 'Only God can make a tree' -- probably because it is so hard to figure out how to get the bark on." --Woody Allen
"I am not young enough to know everything." Oscar Wilde
"Sarcasm is the lowest form of humor but the highest form of wit."
So maybe wit is low on the humor totem pole. But wit is considered generally intelligent and not as scathing and acerbic as sarcasm. We are a self-deprecating people. We would rather call our humor sarcastic rather than witty so as not to seem self-important or as though we are calling ourselves intelligent and capable of such clever banter. But then we read articles that assume that all who use sarcasm are mean-spirited heathens who bully their children.
We then feel the need to define sarcasm so as to not feel guilt. Which is what I have spent the last hour doing. When I hurt someone with my "humor" I feel remorse. Just as with any tool, it can be misused and should be fixed. It can also be a boon and used for great things.
I, like Mr. Wilde, don't know the resolution here, because I am not young enough to know everything, but I am not old enough to know when to shut my mouth and nod with all my internal sagaciousness. Sure, it's a word. Let it go.