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ESL Story: The language of sarcasm

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There are times when you wish you had spoken up for yourself and shown your annoyance instead of suffering in silence. So let me prepare you for the next occasion by telling you some expressions in English that are useful when you feel like being sarcastic. One of the commonest remarks is “You don't say!” when reacting to a piece of news with which you are already quite familiar. “Of course, it'll cost you money to fly across the Atlantic,” says someone with an air of condescension and “You don't say! Could be your reply. The news, of course, may also be hard to accept. “George is going to have his hair cut tomorrow.”

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Now if George is famous for his shoulder length hair, your response could be: “Who are you trying to kid?” or “I'll believe it when I see it.” Sometimes when you are in a bad mood, other people's ideas and plans may strike you as utterly pointless. When a friend says, for instance, that he's thinking of asking the boss for a rise, you can retort in a mild way with: “You'll be lucky” or more strongly with: “You won't stand a snowball's chance in hell” or expressing contempt for the idea altogether with: “And a fat lot of good that'll do you.” If an acquaintance is known for his unpunctuality, we can anticipate his late arrival again by saying: “It'll be the eighth wonder of the world if he arrives on time today” or we can express the same notion by stating: “Once in a blue moon he does come early.” Should someone threaten to use force against us, we can show our scorn with: “Oh yes, you and whose army?” To other threats when someone suggests doing something to which you are very much opposed like: “I think I'll throw that old chair of yours away!” — you can protest hotly with: “Over my dead body you will.

It's irritating too when people don't give any indication that they've heard what you said. You ask for advice: “Does anyone know the best way to open this bottle?” If silence follows, try: “Don't all speak at once!” or “Now don't all rush!” When you're confronted with laziness, there are some expressions that can relieve the feelings. Should someone be slow in doing something, “Don't strain yourself!” now has the effect of speeding things up. When someone asks you to do a certain thing that they could quite easily do themselves then the question that shows your resentment is: “And what did your last servant die of, overwork?

But then I don't want to tell you how to be too nasty in English, since it's better to temper sarcasm with humour. And here are a number of humorous expressions used in everyday expressions:

  • suggesting that someone is not wanted — “I don't know what we'd do without you, George, but we'd have a lovely time doing it.

  • indicating that the hotel you stayed at was not what it should have been — “Oh yes, the place was so clean you could almost eat off the plates.

    And here's one relying on a pun:

  • describing a woman who shall be nameless — “I wouldn't say she was ugly; she's more of a cross between the two; pretty ugly.

    Mind you, the most frequent way of showing sarcasm is by the tone of your voice where the real meaning is left unsaid. So “Oh yes, I'm having a lovely time” means I'm not enjoying myself at all. “I like the way you sit there” means I wish you'd get up and give me a hand and “Don't mind me” means I've had enough of your not taking any notice of me. And that should be enough information to help you answer back next time. I do hope you learned something you didn't know before. And I mean that — I'm not being sarcastic.

    Dear Friend,
    If you have any questions or comments regarding this essay, please post your answers on the forum here: Sarcasm.

    Many thanks.

    If you have any English grammar or vocabulary questions,
    please post them on this English Grammar Forum.

    Next:ESL Story: The language of silence

    Author: Alan Townend

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