One of the most entertaining facets of communication can also be one of the most frustrating: That’s because people don’t always mean exactly what they say.
We refer not to lies or falsehoods, but to statements that aren’t aimed to be accepted or understood by their literal meaning. For example, if a friend tells you they are “hungry enough to eat a horse,” you probably don’t expect them to do such a thing. You understand that they are humorously communicating their great desire to eat.
Within American English, though, that non-literal humor can take a couple of forms of expression: sarcastic or facetious. Let’s consider the differences.
Sarcastic or Facetious: What Is the Statement’s Intent?
As we’ve mentioned, someone who is being facetious or sarcastic isn’t being literal. They are saying one thing while obviously meaning another. The difference between these two types of communication lies in intent and effect.
When a person is being facetious, they are aiming for humor. The desire is to make a point in an entertaining way, such as in the following statements:
It’s raining cats and dogs outside.
I have a mountain of laundry waiting for me at home.
The first twenty minutes of work are the longest five hours of your life.
These statements use light humor not directed at anyone.
Sarcasm, on the other hand, aims to undercut or belittle someone else, such as in the following statements:
I guess we should applaud the fact that Frank left only five typing errors in today’s email.
Apparently Cheryl confused “casual Friday” with “pajama party.”
Terry won’t win any sales awards, but if we ever start giving out plaques for sleeping on the job, he will be an all-star.
These too are non-literal statements with a note of humor. The difference, though, is that they have a sharper edge than the facetious statements do. For that reason, sarcasm is sometimes seen as having poor taste in communication.
Facetious statements are fun and lighthearted while sarcastic statements include some sting in them. Remember that and you’ll be able to spot the difference.
Using what you’ve learned in this article, determine whether each of the following statements is facetious or sarcastic.
- I find it refreshing that my wife’s favorite restaurant isn’t concerned with trifles such as food quality and proper sanitation. [facetious / sarcastic]
- I was headed to the gym on Saturday, but I made a wrong turn and instead found my fitness at a café offering all-you-can-eat biscuits and gravy. [facetious / sarcastic]
- The great thing about my phone is that it has lots of apps for tracking the projects I’m procrastinating on for another month. [facetious / sarcastic]
- I would ask what you had for breakfast, but your breath already told me. [facetious / sarcastic]
- It’s nice that you could make time to mow the lawn between napping and playing video games. [facetious / sarcastic]
Pop Quiz Answers
- I find it refreshing that my wife’s favorite restaurant isn’t concerned with trifles such as food quality and proper sanitation. (sarcastic)
- I was headed to the gym on Saturday, but I made a wrong turn and instead found my fitness at a café offering all-you-can-eat biscuits and gravy. (facetious)
- The great thing about my phone is that it has lots of apps for tracking the projects I’m procrastinating on for another month. (facetious)
- I would ask what you had for breakfast, but your breath already told me. (sarcastic)
- It’s nice that you could make time to mow the lawn between napping and playing video games. (sarcastic)
Want More Grammar Tips for Everyday Use?
If you’re looking for more ways to sharpen your grammar and use American English more persuasively, visit our blog again soon. You can also leave us a comment below.
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