The group of women sat around a table, discussing their mother’s instructions on being a “Southern Lady.” In their storytelling manner they competed with each to relate the most outlandish piece of advice.
“I never could understand that bit about making sure I had on clean underwear before going on a car trip in case I was in an accident,” one drawled.
“Me neither,” agreed a second woman with a honeyed giggle. “If I were in a car crash and bleeding, I doubt anyone would be worried about how clean my underwear was.”
The first woman continued. “Still, she would remind me every time we got in the car. Sometimes she simply would insist that I go back in the house and put on another pair, but I would have none of that.”
“My mother would insist that I put on clean underwear, too,” a third woman chimed in. “I simply refuse to do it.”
“Intentionally wearing dirty underwear–what a great way to stand up to your mothers.” I commented straight faced.
At first they looked confused, and finally the third woman shot me a dirty look. That is difficulty with using sarcasm as humor. It is a biting way of saying what I really don’t mean to say. It brings attention to a lack of logic in a backward manner. Unlike satire, a type of buffoonery expressed when the subject of ridicule is not there, sarcasm almost always requires the presence of the person caught in the mistake to make sense. The inflection of a sarcastic comment is subtle. It is not accompanied with “Let me tell you about…” or the guffaws that often mark brazen attempts at humor. Without these cues some people are unsure how to respond.
Psychologist Penny Pexman from University of Calgary confirmed in her study that people are more likely to use sarcasm with their friends than strangers. She also found that children as young as five can be adept at picking up the real meaning behind facetious comments. They evidently learn it from their parents. But, then research has also have uncovered significant regional differences. A whopping 20% more Northerners in the U.S found sarcasm funnier than people from the South did. So I suppose I shouldn’t look too harshly on the trio of “Southern” women not knowing the appropriate way to respond to sarcasm–they need to reply with an even wittier barb.