I love parody, satire and sarcasm. We’re sorry.

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of joke, but the highest form of intelligence.” – Oscar Wilde

This week I’m going to take a look at sarcasm.

If that revelation has just led you to say to yourself, “Big deal, Mr. Word Guy,” well, congratulations. You just used sarcasm.

I also plan to define parody and satire. So, hopefully I’ll do someone’s Sunday morning. (Yes, exactly).

A parody, which takes its name from the Greek “parodia”, which means “counter-song”, is mimetic or imitative. In other words, it is a literary or musical work that mimics the style of an author or work to create a comical effect. (By the way, for you legal eagles, even if copying of an original is permitted according to the “fair use” principle of copyright law, the actors must be careful not to borrow too much of the original, as this is not considered fair use.)

In general, parodies are meant to entertain, not criticize. For example, Mike Myers ‘”Austin Powers” films were a show primarily of James Bond films, while Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” and “Spaceballs” were the releases of “Frankenstein” and “Star Wars” films, respectively.

Examples of musical parodies include Al Yankovic’s versions of several popular songs such as “Eat It” (“Beat It”) and “Fat” (“Bad”), Seth Grahme-Smith’s “Pride and Prejudice and Vampires,” his version of Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice”.

Satire is the use of humor or exaggeration to expose people’s stupidity in current issues, especially politics. In contrast to parody, satirical works cannot rely on the fair use doctrine for protection; they are expected to “stand on their own two feet” and there is no need to borrow.

Good examples of satire often used in hopes of making positive change include: The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live’s weekend update segment.

Now back to my verbal weapon of choice, sarcasm. From the Greek “sarkezein” which means “to tear flesh, bite the lip in anger, sneer”, sarcasm is a dishonest speech that, according to Merriam-Webster, “is intended to cut or cause pain”. In other words, if no one is offended, it is not sarcasm.

The T-shirt that reads “National Sarcasm Society, like we need your support” makes the point very concise, but others have used the verbal irony just as effectively.

Dorothy Parker was a frequent sarcasm, if I may, who often used her signature negative pranks for a humorous effect. Consider her sarcastic look at spring: “Spring comes every year with nasty little birds yapping their stupid heads and the ground full of plants.”

On his weekly “Thank You Notes” segment of The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon wrote one to the leader of North Korea saying, “Thank you, Kim Jong Un, for banning sarcasm. Great idea.”

Even the Washington Post couldn’t resist digging a little when it reported, “The Secret Service is looking for software that can detect sarcasm on social media. Yeah, good luck with that. “

I recently saw another t-shirt that made a pretty good argument for using sarcasm that said, “Tact is for people who aren’t funny enough to use sarcasm.” Also, studies have shown that sarcasm promotes creative problem solving by making the brain work harder and keep it sharper. You are welcome.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose works include LL Bean: The Man and His Company and Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.


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