Sarcasm and Other Mixed Messages

Author: Rockwell, Patricia A.
This book presents a compilation of sarcasm research with the hope that researchers from many different disciplines will discover new avenues of inquiry into the field. Sarcasm has many definitions, and this variety shapes how researchers see it. Sarcasm is portrayed in most dictionary references as negative behavior; it is designed to wound, insult, or taunt. It is characterized as cutting and contemptuous. However, some researchers say that much sarcasm involves teasing and joking. Sarcasm is relatively common, although most instances of sarcasm tend to be isolated. Researchers report different types of sarcasm.

Sarcasm is a type of irony, according to most researchers, and irony is just one of many figures of speech. Some researchers argue that sarcasm and irony are intrinsically different, but others suggest that they are identical for all practical purposes. Although all figures of speech are related to sarcasm/irony to some extent because they are non-literal, the figures of speech called hyperbole (overstatement or exaggeration) and meiosis (understatement) are most similar.

Most sarcasm is linguistic, philosophical, or literary in nature. Most researchers utilize experimental methods, but other forms of research have advocates also. The vast majority of studies mentioned in this book consider elements of comprehension rather than production. Researchers have less often considered sarcastic speakers and what motivates them to use sarcasm. This appears to be changing, however. This book looks at all methodology used in sarcasm research and considers what has been most productive as well as problems that exist with the various research methods.


“The study of human communication as a social science is a rapidly maturing discipline ... The discipline has moved from broad-based issues of humans communicating in interactions to the fine-grained analyses of today that are looking at intricately detailed messages and behaviors and their role in the interaction process. This book is the latest effort at understanding the role of a specific message type and associated behavior, in this case, sarcasm/irony, in the creation of non-literal meaning during an interaction of human talking to human ... The book traces the bona fides of sarcasm by establishing how commonplace its usage is, why it is important to study, and how scholars and writers have chosen to define both the term and behavior ... This work is well-written with clear and concise explanations and examples ... This book would be a useful companion for anyone studying any class of nonliteral and/or indirect messages. As one who has had an abiding interest in the strategic use of ambiguous messages in particular and language processing in general, I can say with certainty that I encountered ideas and research findings that will have an impact on my thinking about the use and processing of nonliteral messages and the strategic use of ambiguous messages in the future.” – (from the Foreword) Professor James F. Roiger, University of Arkansas at Monticello

“Sarcasm has stimulated scholarly interest from numerous disciplines, including the fields of psychology, linguistics, literary criticism, computer science, philosophy and communication. Dr. Rockwell has analyzed this diverse scholarship and organized research on sarcasm into salient categories ... The text contributes unique information to the field of communication about an important type of communication ... This book is a pioneering text in the field of sarcasm research drawing together many disparate fields of research, from literary criticism and intercultural communication, to neurobiology and psycholinguistics. This book stands as a model for future texts on verbal and nonverbal communication ... ” – Eugenie P. Almeida, Department of Performing and Fine Arts, Fayetteville State University

“Linguists, philosophers, historians, poets, writers, psychologists (cognitive, developmental, and social), rhetoricians, and communication scientists and even the lay reader will find this book intrinsically appealing. While reading, most individuals will have to fight the temptation to recall and name all types of individuals known for their sarcastic material ... The research findings discussed within the book are informative and clearly explained. The book summarizes research in a clear, concise manner, and offers much theory, research, and practice material on sarcasm to discuss now and later.” – Carl L. Thameling, Department of Communications, University of Louisiana at Monroe

Table of Contents

Preface by James F. Roiger
1. Introduction
2. Theories of Sarcasm
3. Traits of Sarcastic Speakers
4. Behaviors of Sarcastic Speakers
5. Traits of Receivers of Sarcasm
6. Methods of Sarcasm Research
7. Conclusion
Appendices: A, B, C, D