Thursday, February 25, 2010


It's been said that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but it can actually be quite complex. Most people have been in a situation where a sarcastic remark is misinterpreted - a situation exacerbated when dealing with the written word stripped of tone and other cues. Over at The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer talks a bit about how the brain deals with it and processes reality:
Given the mental difficulties involved in deciphering sarcasm, it's interesting to note that the right hemisphere has been repeatedly implicated as an essential component of sarcastic processing. For instance, a 2005 study of patients with lesions to the ventromedial area of the right prefrontal cortex found that they exhibited severe deficits in understanding sarcastic speech, at least when compared to people with left PFC lesions. And then there's this 2008 study, which showed that people hear sarcasm better when it's presented to their left ear.
For some early examples of sarcasm, you need look no further than the bible, where the prophet Elijah taunts Baal worshipers to provide proof of their god (1 Kings 18:27):
At noon Elijah started making fun of them: "Pray louder! He is a god! Maybe he is day-dreaming or relieving himself, or perhaps he's gone off on a trip! Or maybe he's sleeping, and you've got to wake him up!"
There's a splash of irony there too.


Anonymous said...

I think traditionally, puns have been considered the lowest form of wit. And with good reason.

Kamel said...

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I've heard both so I actually looked it up. Nothing conclusive of course, but a google fight gives it to sarcasm. Besides, puns are great. Anybody can do sarcasm. At least if you don't have lesions to the ventromedial area of the right prefrontal cortex.