Letters on Literary Devices 14: Writing Sarcasm

To my Number One Groupie:

I’m writing this one for you. But before I start, lets give a little context to anyone else who might be reading this.

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Last week I received an e-mail from my biggest fan. One thing led to another, a few e-mails went back and forth which concluded in her sending me this:

Let me be clear. I beg you to never high five yourself again. I was so pleased to see that you kicked that hAbbit. I was going to high five you about it but that would just send you spiraling back into your addiction. You can make it. Just slap youself on the ass and put it on youtube whenever you want to high five yourself, but make sure nobody can trace it to you and cut off your head (she meant conceal my head, not cut it off. That was explained later) in the video. You will do a kick ass job. Adios.

If you couldn’t tell, she was joking about my tendency to “LIKE” my own blog posts. That’s what she meant when she said “I beg you to never high five yourself again.” She was just joking.  Well, that’s not completely true. She meant what she said, but she wasn’t being mean or cruel or hateful.

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This was how I responded:

Now THAT was funny. You certainly have hyperbole down. I haven’t tried the youtube video yet, but next time I get the urge to high-five, I’ll just get the camera rolling, put on a mask, and go for it.

And this sparked an idea which took the form of two questions: How did I know she was pulling my leg? How was I able to interpret her e-mail as clever sarcasm not vindictive malice?

Well, the answer to that one’s simple: I’m an English Teacher who’s written a few books and I know all about verbal irony. But most people don’t; most people don’t need to know how to write verbal irony or to recognize it in other people’s writing. For most people, it’s enough to recognize sarcasm in speech. And that’s usually easy because in speech we’re exposed to more than just a person’s words; we’re exposed to their tone as well.

So, you’re probably wondering: how can verbal irony or sarcasm be written? How can a writer sound sarcastic using words alone?

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Well, it’s easier than you’d think.

Here are two easy ways to do it:

HYPERBOLE: That’s what my number one groupie used in her e-mail. This is the use of exaggeration or overstatement. So how did she do it? Simple. She did it through her choice of verbs and adverbs. Check out this sentence that she wrote: ” I beg you to never high five yourself again.” This sounds sarcastic because of the verb she chose: “beg”, and the adverb, “again.”  If she had written it like this: “I don’t think you should high five yourself,” she wouldn’t have sounded sarcastic. And that was just one sentence. Look at the other verbs and adverbs, “send … spiraling … slap … on the ass … cut off.” Each exaggerates the type of action I should take if I ever feel the urge to “LIKE” my own blog posts.

UNDERSTATEMENT: This is the opposite of Hyperbole but has a similar effect. Instead of using verbs and adverbs to exaggerate, it uses these to sarcastically minimize whatever is being said. Think about my response back to her. I said “You certainly have hyperbole down.” That doesn’t sound very sarcastic. But if I changed it to this: “You seem to have hyperbole down,” it would. All I did was change the adverb. “Certainly,” was changed to “seem to” which understates her ability to use hyperbole. I mean shit, she more than just “seems to” have hyperbole down.

 

Well, that’s two ways to do it. To my number one groupie who sparked the idea, I hope I was clear and I hope I did a kick ass job.

Adios!

 

 

P.S. If you liked this PLEASE hit the “like” button. I’d do it myself but I’m no longer giving myself high-fives. Make sure to check out the youtube video: VIDEO … just kidding that was just a link to my books page. Fooled ya!

About Eric James-Olson

Eric James-Olson writes novels and short stories. Currently, he's working on a coming-of-age novel set in the Panhandle of West-Virginia. Check out the "Novels by Eric James-Olson" tab above for the titles of his other books. In addition to writing, James-Olson is a high school English teacher, an amateur woodworker, and an outdoor enthusiast. He lives with his wife and daughter in West Virginia. View all posts by Eric James-Olson

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