As the title suggests, does a statement have to mock someone or convey contempt in order to be considered sarcastic? I thought the main criteria was that the statement should mean the opposite of what you really want to say.

Specifically, I recently changed ISPs and discussed the exhaustive selection process for a new one with some friends. After a minor issue arose immediately after connecting to the new provider I said to the same group of friends

Time to find a new ISP.

I believed this to be sarcasm as I clearly had no intention of changing ISPs again so quickly, but have been told it doesn't qualify as sarcasm because I wasn't mocking anyone.

  • Hello, Dave. What do major online dictionaries say? Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 19:48
  • As far as I can tell, your only grounds for believing that sarcasm requires mockery is that you "have been told" so by someone whose identity is a complete mystery. That doesn't sound very convincing. Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 0:28
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    @EdwinAshworth I have seen different definitions in major online dictionaries. Oxford languages (via Google) defines it as "the use of irony to mock or convey contempt". Merriam-Webster says "Sarcasm refers to the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say, especially in order to insult someone, or to show irritation, or just to be funny", and by that definition I think the statement qualifies as sarcasm.
    – user469547
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 5:52
  • In addition to mocking other people, it can be used to mock an organization, group, or product, as well as to mock oneself.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 9:53

1 Answer 1


Well, the aim of sarcasm is to mock or criticise, and not just to express amusement with a situation. Cambridge defines it as

the use of remarks that clearly mean the opposite of what they say, made in order to hurt someone's feelings or to criticize something in a humorous way:

  • "You have been working hard," he said with heavy sarcasm, as he looked at the empty page.

Without the mocking connotation, I guess you have irony, which is not always aimed at criticising something or someone. M-W has a good post on the matter:

Most often, sarcasm is biting, and intended to cause pain. Irony can also refer to the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say. But irony can also refer to a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expected.

For example, it is ironic if someone who was raised by professional musicians but who wanted a very different kind of life then fell in love with and married a professional musician.

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    That's the basic distinction between sarcasm and irony. Sarcasm is explicitly intended to hurt feelings. The etymology tells all; the Greek root is the same one as in sarcophagus. literally 'corpse-eater'. Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 17:26
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    @fev the same M-W post you quote says that sarcasm is also used "to show irritation, or just to be funny". Collins similarly states that it is only "usually intended to mock or insult someone".
    – user469547
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 6:02
  • @Dave But OALD has: sarcasm [noun] [uncountable]: ​a way of using words that are the opposite of what you mean in order to be unpleasant to somebody or to make fun of them (I can't see how the 'or' works here; I'd use 'often' instead). The non-venomous use of antiphrasis (usually foe humour) is verbal irony. // 'Irony' has been covered here before in depth. So has the sarcasm/irony question, but the most upvoted answer is suboptimal. Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 19:37

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