I grew up in a very funny family—not the kind of funny that sends you to therapy, but the kind that is its own form of therapy. My Irish relatives knew how to lighten even the hardest days with well-timed ironic humor. Some of my funniest memories are at family funerals.
Though I love making people laugh, I’ve had to learn that certain ironic humor doesn’t belong on the lips of the Christ-follower, especially the Christian parent.
Ironic humor involves saying the opposite of what you mean, either in word or in tone. In its positive form, wit, it can be used to diffuse tension, put others at ease, or even pay a compliment. (Think of congratulating someone by remarking with a smile, “It is her burden in life to excel at everything she tries.”)
Those of us for whom no Instagram filter can impart glamor can adopt the hashtag #IWokeUpLikeThis (thanks, Beyonce) with ironic glee. Wit, whether situational or self-deprecating, draws us to the family, friends, party guests, comedians, and public speakers we find funniest.
But ironic humor can also hurt. Sarcasm is wounding wit and differs from ironic wit in one key way: It always has a victim. By definition, sarcasm comes at the expense of someone else. The term itself comes from a Greek word meaning “tear the flesh.” Its subtle shreds actually make it more irresistible to the chronically ironic.
Understanding ironic humor requires a cognitive ability not everyone has. Ironic humor tends to reinforce our sense of intellectual superiority while simultaneously confusing others in the conversation.
Undeniably passive-aggressive, sarcasm cloaks contempt in cleverness. Why insult someone directly in plain speech when I can do so with stealth and artistry? ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more