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The Art of Sarcastic Texting: How To Text Sarcastically Without Being Misunderstood

Updated on January 4, 2014
TINA: "Hey sexy, your frog costume is so hot... take me now..."  Oh boy!  She totally wants me!
TINA: "Hey sexy, your frog costume is so hot... take me now..." Oh boy! She totally wants me! | Source

Sarcasm? What sarcasm...?

How often is your texting sarcasm misinterpreted?

See results
OMG he thought I was serious.  I'll just play along, he'll get it this time...
OMG he thought I was serious. I'll just play along, he'll get it this time... | Source

Bill: Hey. I'm having a wild, off da chain party Saturday you coming?

Jane: Nope, I'm busy. I have to wax my cat.

Bill: Oh, ok. But you're missing out, we're going to be playing strip twister with the senior citizens bowling league.

Jane: hmm well now you've convinced me. I'll go stock up on baby oil and see you at 8.


Here's the million dollar question: who was being sarcastic? Where did it start? When did it end? Who was being cheeky and who is a bizarre deviant?

It's no secret that the way that people communicate has changed. Texting is now a more common form of communication for most than actually speaking to someone. People sitting at the same table will often ignore each other, all while texting away furiously, sometimes to the person sitting across from them.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of elements of human communication that simply don't translate into text. Body language, facial expressions, and tone inflection are all lost from a language in a text, leaving only the literal meaning of words.

This obviously causes trouble.

The sample above is an actual conversation held by two of my friends (yep, their names are really BIll and Jane. Also, their credit card information can be found here...). Said conversation resulted in a pleasant night with five other close friends drinking wine and laughing a lot (probably the wine had something to do with that). The only reason that the above conversation worked is that they are already very good friends, and know definitively that they are both completely full of BS.

Let's pretend that Bill and Jane met at a bar the night before and this is Bill's first attempt to flirt via text and get Jane to hang out. Neither knows where the boundary of sarcasm lies, and misunderstandings are likely. For example:


Bill: Hey. I'm having a wild, off da chain party Saturday you coming?

Jane: Oh hi! Well I'm not a huge partier, and actually I have this thing I have to do. Maybe next time.

Bill: Oh, ok. But you're missing out, we're going to be playing strip twister with the senior citizens bowling league.

Jane: Please don't text me again


Or if Bill didn't quite get the memo...


Bill: Hey. I'm having a wild, off da chain party Saturday you coming?

Jane: Nope, I'm busy. I have to wax my cat.

Bill: Wow. Um so actually the party got cancelled so don't worry about it

Jane: Oh, ok. I was just kidding, btw

Bill: Haha sure

(Bill deletes Jane's number)


Our society relies on sarcasm for coping with so many situations in life, from telling off a boss to flirting with his daughter. Texting strips this nuance away and leaves only the raw words behind, and attempts to create inflection usually go horribly, horribly wrong. The lack of a unified protocol of sarcasm makes texters lose jobs, friends. relationships, meaningless flings, and meaningful conversations every single day. So what to do? How, exactly, do you communicate sarcasm through texting?

Here's how.

Abed's guide to sarcasm

"I'll bet he was trying to be sarcastic...but if I take it literally, I can probably get him to buy me flowers..."
"I'll bet he was trying to be sarcastic...but if I take it literally, I can probably get him to buy me flowers..." | Source

--> Subtlety!!!!

As Abed illustrates, there are subtle ways and not-so-subtle ways to express sarcasm. This is true in text form too. Let's start with the more obvious end of things.

Girlfriend: Hey remember that dress I tried on in the mall? Did you think it made me look fat?

Boyfriend: Yeah that dress totally made you look fat

Ex-girlfriend: THAT'S SO MEAN!! HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT???

Boyfriend: What?!?! No, wait!! THAT WAS SARCASM!!!!

Ex-girlfriend: NICE TRY JERK!! YOU OBVIOUSLY MEANT IT OR YOU WOULDN'T HAVE SAID IT LIKE THAT!!


At this point, I think we can all agree that there is no way for this hapless bastard to recover from his tailspin. He probably had the intention of making his response sarcastic, since the idea of his girlfriend looking anything but gorgeous was so laughable. But his deadpan delivery that might have worked in real life was suicide in text form.

Now, what if he had tried the same message, but in this format instead?

Boyfriend: (SARCASM--->) YEAH, that dress TOTALLY made you look fat (<-- SARCASM!!!!)... ;)

Seems a little hit-you-over-the-head obvious? Even intelligence-insulting? Perfect.

While Boyfriend has still made a major relationship error by even answering this question, he has it least made it painfully clear that his tone is sarcastic. He might even escape this exchange with his relationship/boyfriend points/testicles intact.

Until the tone of a text conversation has been set, always remember that the general assumption is literalism. "You are fat," will be interpreted as "You are fat," unless there has been some signal to take the off-ramp to Sarcasmland. The less familiar you are with a person, or the higher the potential for disastrous miscommunication, the more blaring and obvious this sign has to be.

Furthermore, it has to be in advance of your sarcastic comment. Any attempt to backtrack and point out the sarcasm will just look like ass-covering, and won't get you out of the dog house.

So how would this actually look in a conversation? Lets start with a high-risk exchange where there is VERY little room for misinterpretation.

Girlfriend: Hey so I'm stoked you and my supermodel sister finally met, looked like you two were getting along.

Boyfriend: (WARNING: SARCASM AHEAD)

Yeah, we got along REEEALY well. We were actually talking about what to name our first child together... (Haha, SARCASM)


Well played sir. Boyfriend can't give an overly glowing review in this case or the GF might get quietly suspicious, you can't say she's ugly and uninteresting because she's family. Sarcasm splits the difference by making an obvious and overdone joke that shows that Boyfriend is comfortable joking about it, and there's no way he can be accused of being serious.

When such a case arises, here are some equally cryptic ways to reveal that you may be engaging in an act of sarcasm.

  • I'm pretty confident I got 100% on that test *sarcasm*
  • Yup that bartender will totally call you back after that note you wrote her on your tab (rolls eyes)
  • OMG I WOULD TOTALLY LOVE TO LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE JUSTIN BIEBER HOLIDAY ALBUM AND MAYBE AFTER THAT I CAN KILL MYSELF IN THE MOST PAINFUL WAY POSSIBLE!!!

Hmm...how dost thou scribe in utmost sarcasm...?
Hmm...how dost thou scribe in utmost sarcasm...? | Source

What is your go-to method for texting sarcasm?

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I See What You're Doing There...I Think...

Not every situation calls for bat-to-the-face tactics. In fact, that's kinda the point of sarcasm in the first place.

Sadly, there isn't just one way to express to people that you are about to engage in an act of sarcasm without actually telling them. Many solutions have been offered, but in the end, they just aren't widespread enough to be understood by everyone all the time (well, at least you have options).

Here's the problem: everyone expresses their sarcasm in person using slightly different mannerisms, and therefore there isn't just a single facial expression that denotes sarcasm. This means the hunt for the elusive 'Sarcasmoticon", a universal sarcasm indicator will never come to be, simply because we all use different deliveries when using sarcasm in face-to-face conversation.

Your best approach is to find the approach/emoticon/phrase that makes the most sense to you, then stick to it. If your contacts realize that a particular face always accompanies a sarcastic comment, they will quickly associate that face for you with sarcasm, À la Pavlov.

Take a look at the examples below, and see if one style stands out to you as more obviously sarcastic, then make it your workhorse for textual sarcasm.

Winky Face: The tried and true. Also can be interpreted as hitting on your target (may or may not be a bad thing).

Yeah, I really enjoyed that lecture. I might go study all about post neo modernistic flower arranging just for fun now ;)


Tongue-sticking-out Winky Face: Charmingly juvenile, and clearly shows that there's some intended humor in the immediate area. Better for sarcasm directed at the target. Hard to preserve your masculinity with a steady stream of these, and sometimes looks more like brain damage than sarcasm.

I love hearing all about how to identify the birds of South America, it's not nerdy at all ;p

Mischievous V grin: Intended to look like an impish smirk. Can look more like a bird beak.

Last night was awesome, I think those bikers really appreciated you serenading them with Pat Benetaur ;->

Trailing off...: Simulates an awkward silence in which you're waiting patiently for your target to realize that you're messing with them. Works well if you tend to deliver deadpan sarcasm with little inflection, but can be misinterpreted as uncertainty. Can be effectively combined with other methods. My personal favorite (in fact, I've used it on you in this very article!).

Well I'm sure she'll remember all of that in the morning...

OR

No way, having 10 cats doesn't necessarily mean you're a crazy cat lady... ;P


"Strategic" quotation marks: Great for centering sarcasm around one word or topic by implying that the quoted word is in serious question. Hilarious if done well, often misused by general public, and can have disastrous implications if used poorly.

Yeah you're right, that "girl" you met at the roller derby was totally into you.


Capitalization for EMPHASIS: Simulates the natural inflection of sarcasm in conversation by directing an exaggerating emphasis on one word, syllable, etc. Works best when used on pronouns.

THAT was an interesting version of Swan Lake, I didn't remember the Tyrannosaur scene

Eye-rolling Emoticons: A solid option, in spite of my general dislike of emoticons. Gets the point across, albeit in an overly cutesie-poo kinda way.

Don't worry, I'm sure they just forgot to invite you, I'll bet they don't even remember last year (Insert Emoticon Here)

Sarcastic Hashtags: Not everybody reads hashtags carefully or even understands what they're used for, so you have to know your audience on this one.

You have such amazing ideas! You're right, you could make a way better movie than this one, thanks for sharing that information throughout the entire film!! #sarcasm #pleaseshutup#matinscorceseisbetterthanyou

To Review:

The Finer Points

Now for the true artistry: sarcasm without signs.

This method always rides the line between misunderstanding and clarity, which is why it's such a great tool. The same ambiguity that once was your enemy is now your friend, keeping your target from being able to call you on your snarkiness because the literal wording is totally fine.

Only one real trick exists in this case. You must exaggerate just enough to make your target wonder what the true meaning is without exposing yourself as intentionally sarcastic. The greater the exaggeration, the more easily you will be exposed.

If you WANT your target to figure it out without hitting them over the head with it:

Bro 1: Dude so thanks for letting me borrow your car

Bro 2: No problem. Thanks for leaving stale french fries under the seat, it's like a greasy Easter Egg hunt trying to get them all out

Bro 1: Oh haha yeah sorry about that

Bro 2: And don't worry about filling the tank, my car actually runs on sunshine and smiles

In this case, Bro 2 isn't worried about offending Bro 1 clearly. In this case, the sarcasm is to help Bro 1 get a clue without openly whining about it. While this is pretty passive-aggressive, at least the message is delivered with a blend of humor.

Situations certainly do come up when a lighter touch might be preferable. You might even want your target to misinterpret, or at least wonder what you actually meant. Here's an example.

Friend: Hey can you come babysit for Jimmy and Suzie this Saturday?

You: Sure. Your kids are so well behaved, it hardly seems like work. I don't do anything fun with my Saturdays anyway.


Or...

Boss: Hi (Worker Bee X). We really need you to come in on Saturday to just finish a few things up before the deadline. Thanks in advance for being a team player.

You: No problem, I'm sure the rest of the team is just as excited to come and help finish up their parts. Since I assume that everyone's work is as complete as my group's, it shouldn't take more than a few hours anyway.


Such delicate sarcasm probably won't be detected at all, and you certainly can't be called on it. It only serves to express your annoyance, if only to you, and allow you to vent enough to keep your sanity when these little challenges present themselves.

Aside from passive-aggressive comments, this type of sarcasm has another application, and probably the most useful/fun application of sarcasm in general. That, of course, is screwing with people for your own amusement.

This works best on people that will forgive you once they figure out you're been screwing with them, so probably the inner circle of friends and family are best for this one. The only trick is to be very subtle up front, and get gradually more obvious until they catch on.

Buddy: Hey dude so big news! I'm engaged!

Me: Nice dude! To who?

Buddy: Um...Jamie. We went to school together. We've been dating for four years...

Me: She sounds nice. When do I get to meet her?

Buddy: Seriously? We hung out last night...

Me: Oh you mean the one with the red hair and the southern accent? (NOTE: This was a well-placed reference to his much-loathed ex-girlfriend from high school)

Buddy: *@$(#$! I know you're just messing with me idiot

Me: Oh, right! Now I know who you're talking about! Congratulations! You're going to be so happy with Julie!

Buddy: JAMIE

Me: Who's Jamie?

Buddy: I hate you


Of course, your results and uses are entirely your own. Accept that there will always be some misunderstanding, and that there is no "Golden Rule" for sarcasm in texting since we all use it differently anyway. There are always challenges in communication with texting since humans are still adjusting to this novelty, so be patient and keep trying with the rules above, and you will eventually become a master of sarcastic texting!

Or, you could, I dunno, put down the phone and just go actually TALK to people...

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