Words have meaning. Seems obvious, but people forget it all the time. Very often the real meaning of words get lost and replaced by secondary characteristics or euphemisms. The business community does this a lot, like saying “space” instead of “area of expertise,” but today I’m talking about online daters, and the way so many of us use one word: sarcastic.
“I’m sarcastic” is supposed to mean “I’m funny.” Contrary to what every third person on OkCupid believes, funny and sarcastic are not synonyms. “I’m sarcastic” really means “I say obnoxious things in a way that allows me to say ‘just kidding’ and think that I get away with it.”
Normally I avoid pulling out a dictionary definition, but in this case it’s appropriate. Merriam-Webster defines “sarcasm” as “the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny.”
Does that sound like a positive trait? Imagine if someone said to you, “I really love insulting people and showing irritation in a way that makes people who care about me feel stupid. Want to spend a lot of time with me?” Sarcasm is a way to say what you mean while seeming like you don’t mean it. That’s bullshit. We can do better.
When someone says “I’m sarcastic,” there are a few possible things about their character they’re trying to convey. One is “I have a dry sense of humor and I appreciate irony.” But that’s not what “I’m sarcastic” means. If you have a dry, sarcastic sense of humor, say your favorite comedian is Steven Wright. If you appreciate irony, say you like rain on your wedding day or a free ride when you’ve already paid. If you think you have a sophisticated mind, wear architect glasses.
Another meaning of “sarcastic” is “I have character traits that some people may not like.” This is a reasonable impulse, and is a way to weed out people who will not match. But there’s an element of apology to it, and unnecessary apologies gross people out. Don’t apologize for yourself on your profile. We know you’re not perfect, because we’re not perfect either. We’ll discover these things as we get to know each other, preferably with dinner involved or at least bar snacks.
Yet another is “I like to banter.” Great! Say that. Who doesn’t love a good repartee? What no one wants is someone who’s going to roast you all the time.
Sarcasm is not a skill. It has no benefit, and it requires no craft. It just requires saying the opposite of what you mean. Think of your profile as a resume. What value would “being utterly sarcastic” add to someone else’s life? And inadvertently offending people indicates being bad at sarcasm. Sarcasm is saying one thing and meaning the opposite, and if that’s not clear, the sarcasm was unsuccessful. Unless this person is being extra-super-duper-meta-sarcastic, in which case their sarcasm game is on-point. Also you are dating Zombie Andy Kaufman.
On our profiles, we want to look admirable. Being funny is admirable. Having a quick wit is admirable. Saying hurtful things evasively is cowardly. “Good job” with an eye roll is less effective than a sincere “there’s room for improvement.” “I’m funny” is less effective than being funny. Knowing what you mean is the way to communicate what you want.
Image via Buzzfeed