Sarcasm is the use of language that subverts the user's true meaning or position in order to be scathing or attacking. Specifically, sarcasm is intended to be cutting or wounding to a third party in one's subversive use of language. The roots of the word sarcasm appear to be from the greek sarkasmos which derives from sarkazein and translates as "to bite the lips in rage"1.
Sarcasm can be ironic, especially if expressed without making it clear that the user is being sarcastic. However, within the last 30 years, as sarcasm has become increasingly prevalent in society, it is no longer the case that sarcasm is delivered "dead-pan" and is more often than not delivered with emphasis that ought not be there. It seems that sarcasm is, by some, not regarded as a particularly witty or clever behavioural trait. In Sartor Resartus, Thomas Carlyle wrote of sarcasm:
Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the Devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it.
A curious statement, however, since a number of Carlyle's friends and colleagues wrote of him that he enjoyed a writing style which closely resembled the sarcastic and ironic. However, most people are also familiar with the phrase:
We were unable to trace a source for the above quotation but have certainly heard it enough times to know that people have begun to think of sarcasm in those terms. Interestingly, we also hear a number of extensions to the above quote, amongst them:
Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit...but is also the funniest
Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit...but the highest form of intelligence
It is arguable that sarcasm can be used simply for ridicule or for humiliation, not necessarily to be deeply cutting, but more as a way of mocking a target by expressing something that is at odds with the reality of the situation, especially when everyone is aware of that but the target. An example of this use of sarcasm can be seen in the Wayne's World films, in which the principle characters Wayne and Garth will not only make their sarcastic statement, but also append it with "not", thus actually negating the previous sentiment.
(Garth, clearly uneasy and backing away from the TV camera after being left stranded on air during their television programme)
Garth: I'm having a good time... not!